New SAT aims to help low-income students

By focusing on what’s taught in school, the new SAT will help students who can’t afford test prep, writes Ilana Garon, a Bronx high school teacher.

The ACT has passed the SAT in popularity, notes Garon.

While both the current SAT and the ACT have Reading and Writing sections, the SAT currently focuses on vocabulary and more verbally complex reading passages, while the ACT does away with vocabulary definition questions in favor of questions about punctuation and a longer, more involved focus on writing mechanics. In the Reading section, the ACT features articles in four known categories (as opposed to the random selection offered on the SAT), as well as a Science section, which makes students analyze graphs. The Math section of the ACT more closely aligns with a high school math curriculum, while the SAT features some logic games, which are more similar to LSAT questions, and does not include trigonometry.

Students who are strong in math or visually oriented will do better on the ACT, while “verbal” students “may find the SAT plays to their strengths,” writes Garon.

One of the on-going problems with the current SAT is not that it is “harder” than the ACT (as some would argue) but the fact that, more than its rival, it focuses on material outside of the scope of a high school curriculum. For wealthier students, an SAT tutor becomes a mandatory accessory; for many poor students, this type of service is out of reach, leaving them to take a test that is disconnected from what they’re learning in their regular classes with only sparse opportunities for preparation

College Board plans to inform low-income achievers about scholarships and aid to pay their way to selective colleges. But raising college awareness may be less important than redesigning the test, concludes Garon.

I’m not optimistic that the new SAT will be an equalizer:  Students who go to academically strong schools will have a huge advantage.

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  1. Cranberry says:

    We could have afforded SAT tutors, but our kids didn’t need them. I find many people assume “everyone” is doing SAT prep, but the strongest students aren’t.

    There is also lots of prep offered for the ACT, even in the Northeast. If you Google for it, I’m sure you’ll find lots of tutors and companies offering ACT tutoring.

    It is naive to think that the tutors won’t offer cram services for the new SAT. They will. The cram school business model depends upon FUD (Fear, Uncertainty; Doubt).

    In 10 years, if the SAT changes its model, we will still read complaints about wealthy children gaining an unfair advantage through tutoring.

  2. …”College Board plans to inform low-income achievers about scholarships and aid to pay their way to selective colleges. But raising college awareness may be less important than redesigning the test, concludes Garon…”

    Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but back during Regan II when I took the SAT, my mailbox came loaded chock full of literature – colleges all over the place; scholarships, etc, etc…or are they going to do even MORE of that?

    Having tutored a few times for both the ACT and the SAT; I doubt it makes much difference to most kids – the research at the time didn’t indicate that it did much good either.

    • Cranberry says:

      I don’t think tutoring makes a difference. I’ve never found a study which shows more than a 30 point difference. Even if some students make progress, it’s more likely to be found if there are glaring holes in the student’s academic preparation. After a certain level, students’ scores are more likely to go down than up on the SAT. So, it’s probably easier to go from 430 to 470 than 630 to 670.

      That doesn’t stop people from complaining about “Rich Kids and SAT Prep.”

      There are also cultures which place a great deal of importance on standardized tests. Read a few news reports about the recent cancellation of the SAT for South Korea to get an idea of what’s happening there.

      The SAT desperately needs better test security, far more than it needs to be reoriented to be MORE open to memorization. Put it on computer; vary the tests administered; control access to tests, so that tests given in one country are not emailed to test takers in Connecticut.

      I gather students in some countries are memorizing old SAT tests. Entire tests. Making the test more open to memorization will not help identify students more likely to flourish in college.

  3. The only way this would ‘help’ kids trapped in bad schools is if they made the test easier, so that, for instance, the top 25% could get a 1600 and so on down the line…

    And this wouldn’t actually help, since test scores would no longer be a good indicator of whether a student ‘matched’ a school. So, initially, more of the students from terrible schools might get into better colleges…. until it became clear that they failed out at an astounding rate.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    The test WAS NOT DESIGNED to test knowledge of the high school curriculum. It was deigned to be a predictor of college success, if I remember correctly.

    If you want a test of the high school curriculum, make an exit exam.

    I’m not actually a huge fan of standardized testing or the SAT… but I’m even less of a fan of foolishness.