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Impact at Princeton uncertain following SAT announcement

The University has yet to review the changes to the SAT announced last week by College Board and has not decided whether or not it will change any admissions policies.

The University currently requires applicants to submit the results of their SAT or ACT, as well as the results of two SAT subject tests, according to the Undergraduate Admission Website. 

But the SAT is now undergoing major changes that will make the essay section optional and revamp the critical reading section. The changes will take effect in the spring of 2016.

“When we receive detailed information about the changes, we’ll review them and then make a decision,” University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua said of the University’s response to these new changes.

When asked about the University’s response to the now optional writing section, Mbugua said that writing is a valuable skill for Princeton students.

Vice President of Access to Opportunity at the College Board Steve Colon noted that the essay section will be focused on analyzing sources, which he described as an essential skill that many students find themselves unprepared for in college. Colon explained that the new questions will be grounded in “real world context,” drawing upon passages from science and social science pieces. With the writing section now optional, the SAT will be scored with a maximum of 1600 instead of 2400.

Another change to the test is in the critical reading section, Colon said. Students will now be asked to have a “command of evidence” and the multiple choice section will place more emphasize on passage analysis. He noted that with this new test format, students will be expected to analyze a wide variety of sources, including fiction, literary non-fiction, science and social science materials.

Colon also said that the vocabulary questions will now test students on a key set of words that derive their meaning from the context they’re placed in. 

“I think for folks who have taken the SAT in the past there’s sort of this SAT word, which is typically a way of saying here’s a word I put on a flashcard to try to learn which I will never again see in the future,” Colon said.

Colon explained that the College Board made its modifications after receiving feedback from students, teachers, universities and other leaders in education, prioritizing the things that feedback showed matter most to students’ career and college readiness.

“When we look at the data from past SATs we found that half the students who took the SAT weren’t ready for college,” Colon explained. “So our board really asked us to move and rethink the role we play here, from just delivering an assessment to delivering opportunities. So we took that commitment to heart.”

Colon said that the College Board had a real focus on equity and fairness, designing the test so that it not only better reflects what students are learning in the classroom but also seeking to achieve a higher level of transparency.

“We also wanted to be clearer and more open than we ever have been in the past,” he explained, “so we made a commitment to ensuring that students and teachers would know what’s covered on the exam so they have a better ability to prepare and practice.”

“Personally, I think the SAT is not an accurate test of ability,” Katie Woo ’17, a site director for the University’s Let’s Get Ready program, part of a national organization that assists low income students with admissions test preparation and counseling. “It’s not so much your ability so much as just can you understand the tricks of the SAT.” She said that she believes students’ performance to be correlated with their ability to pay for prep courses and books.

Woo said that making the essay section optional would have a limited impact, noting that although many schools currently don’t look at the SAT writing section, the most competitive schools tend to and will still expect competitive applicants to submit the optional writing score after the College Board implements its changes.

Colon said that the College Board’s recent changes will equalize opportunities for all students, explaining that the changes are designed to do a better job reflecting what students are learning in classrooms.

“Then the SAT should only measure those things that were most impactful to [students’] success,” Colon said in describing how the College Board has refocused the SAT.

Colon also described this as a step towards changing what the College Board does, going beyond their role as simple test administrators to one in which they create academic opportunities for students by partnering with Khan Academy and by providing a variety of other services to students.

Woo said that she was skeptical that these changes will ameliorate the direct correlation between student income and SAT performance, explaining that the SAT is a tricky test that people can succeed in only if they’ve had more practice.

“We might see a change where there’s not such a direct correlation between income and SAT scores, but I think it will still be there,” Woo said, “I think it will be hard to tell how much these changes will take effect until we actually see a test.”

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