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College counselor welcomes changes to SAT

Published March 9, 2014

The SAT is set to undergo major changes, as announced in a recent press release from the College Board. However, Palo Alto High School students should not be drastically impacted by the redesign, according to college advisor Sandra Cernobori.

According to the press release, the revised SAT, which is set to debut in 2016, is a result of the College Board’s efforts to “focus on the few things that evidence show matter most for college and career readiness. … The exam is also modeled on the work that students do in challenging high school courses.”

The redesigned exam will return to the 1600 point scoring scale, comprised of three sections – evidenced-based reading and writing, math and an optional essay – and no longer penalize for incorrect answers, the press release said. Additionally, the new SAT will test relevant words – such as “empirical” or “synthesis” – rather than obscure vocabulary, evaluate students’ ability to analyze passages from a diverse range of sources and focus on three main mathematical areas – problem solving and data analysis, the heart of algebra and passport of advanced math.

Cernobori said she agrees with these changes, believing that the revisions will be a better assessment of students’ abilities. She also said that because the new SAT will be modeled after high school material, it will decrease the advantage for students with greater access to test preparation resources, therefore leveling the playing field.

“I like the change because I feel like it’s more related to what students are doing,” Cernobori said. “Because with test prep the test can favor students who have [the] means to do prep, and there’s a lot more prep I think that can be done for the current SAT in terms of strategy. … [The redesigned SAT will] benefit students, especially those that don’t have a lot of resources. … From my point of view I think that as an equity piece it’s a little bit nicer.”

In addition to the revised exam, the College Board announced new actions to expand its outreach and provide access and opportunities for test preparation to low-income families, including a partnership with Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials, therefore further reducing the inequalities surrounding collegiate entrance exams.

Cernobori believes that the College Board’s decision to enact these changes and additions surrounding the SAT is a result of the ACT’s growing popularity among students. In 2012, for the first time, the ACT surpassed the SAT in its number of test takers.

“What they [the College Board] are doing is making it [the SAT] more like the ACT,” Cernobori said. “The marketing that they’re doing with this new initiative is talking about opportunity and access. … But the reality is that they were also losing market share to the ACT.”

However, Cernobori addressed the possibility that more students may opt to take the ACT versus the revised SAT in 2016.

“I wonder if more of them [students] will not want to take the new test and maybe take the ACT instead because they don’t want to be the first to try it out,” Cernobori said. “I’m not necessarily going to recommend that, but that’s something that I think might happen.”

Currently, the ACT is a better representation of high school material than the SAT, Cernobori said.

“The ACT is not an aptitude test but an assessment, so it’s more … closely related to the kind of tests that students take and are prepared for just in terms that it’s more content-based,” Cernobori said.

According to Cernobori, the alignment between the redesigned SAT and the ACT may eliminate personal preferences for either of the tests.

“Now that the two tests, SAT and ACT, will be so similar, I’m not sure I’m going to have a specific recommendation to one or the other,” Cernobori said. “Because right now I look at students’ PSAT results and their PLAN results and kind of see which areas they were stronger in and then knowing a little bit about the student sometimes I make a recommendation, sometimes I don’t. But if the tests are going to be more similar, I’m not sure that it’s really going to matter.”

Because of the similarities between the redesigned SAT and the ACT, students should not experience any major impacts in their college application process as a result of the revised SAT, Cernobori said.

“Presumably the College Board is going to do … validity testing, and so there will be confidence, but I think it’s also going to be a new kind of paradigm for the colleges to look at too,” Cernobori said. “My guess is, they [colleges] are going to feel okay with it because … it’s more like the ACT and they already know how to look at the ACT.”

Ultimately, according to Cernobori, standardized testing – whether it be the current SAT, redesigned SAT or ACT – will not be the determining factor in college admissions.

“The vast majority of colleges are not making decisions on test scores alone,” Cernobori said. “In every study ever, the strongest predictor of success in college is success in high school, so the classes that you’re taking and how you’re doing there is seen as kind of the strongest predictor for success. I don’t think that these tests are going to change that.”

Rather, colleges use test scores as a type of “check” for grade inflation in high schools, Cernobori said. However, the emphasis placed on Paly students’ test scores should be less due to Paly’s history of academic rigor.

“For some schools, like us, where we have a really college-going culture, where they [colleges] have a history of Paly applicants, I don’t know if test scores necessarily are so important because you know the strength of the curriculum and how students do just based on that application history,” Cernobori said.

According to Cernobori, Paly students place undue significance on test scores for college applications.

“I think people put too much weight on it [standardized testing],” Cernobori said. “I think they [students] get hung up on selectivity being better and therefore the way to make myself strong is to have high scores, and I’m not sure that’s the best approach. But this is a cultural thing, I don’t think it’ll shift that quickly.”


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