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Come 2016, students nationwide will see redesign in SAT; local agencies curious how changes will address equity

Local agencies aren't planning to drastically adjust their practices based on the redesigned SAT, but they are interested to see how the announced changes will address equity and relevance concerns.

The College Board announced changes to the SAT college entrance exam Wednesday. Students can expect to see more relevant vocabulary words, math problems with real-world context and an optional essay portion of the SAT starting in spring 2016.

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The redesigned SAT will be more focused on what is shown by research to matter most in college and career, according to Carly Lindauer, spokeswoman from The College Board.

The College Board is a nonprofit that helps more than 7 million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success - including the SAT and the Advanced Placement Program. The organization also serves the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools, according to its website.

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College Board President David Coleman announced the changes to the SAT and other initiatives that are designed to be used with assessments to move students toward college success, according to a College Board news release. Coleman is an architect of the Common Core curriculum standards.

Lindauer said the last change to the exam happened in 2005, but the SAT has evolved over time since it was developed in 1926 in order to keep it relevant.

The highlighted changes include the exam, now scored out of 2400, once again being scored on a 1600-point scale. The evidence-based reading and writing section and the math section will each be scored on a 200- to 800-point scale. Scores for the optional essay will be reported separately.

All aspects of the test, including how it was graded, were evaluated as part of the redesign process, Lindauer said. Research shows that moving to scoring only right answers does not have an impact on the scores reported and eliminates any test-taking strategies that students may be using that are irrelevant to what is being measured by the test.

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When students open their test books in spring 2016, they'll find questions asking them to support their answers with evidence, vocabulary they'll use long after they have taken the exam, an essay prompt asking them to analyze a writer's argument, and multi-step problems requiring them to apply math in real-world contexts, Lindauer said.

With the test still two years out, it's hard to know what the changes will mean for the next generation of scores, according to Florence Hines, vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions at McDaniel College.

While the SAT and ACT tests show student aptitude in a common way that may not be captured the same way high school to high school, high school grades and rigor of the high school program are still the best predictors of college success, she said.

Some of the changes are really strong efforts to alleviate some of the previous concerns with the SAT, including how scores have historically correlated to family income, Hines said.

"If the new SAT is going to work toward alleviating some of that inequality, that's a good thing," she said.

There's a lot of stress associated with standardized tests and removing the penalties for wrong answers will relieve some of that stress, according to Hines.

McDaniel has always dismissed the essay component of the SAT and instead look at a student's submitted application essay. The college has had a test-optional policy since the early 2000s, which means that students who qualify don't have to submit SAT or ACT results as part of their application, Hines said.

McDaniel takes a holistic view of looking at a student, considering the rigor of the curriculum, the recommendation letters received and the intensity of the courses the student took.

It is possible that if the test does show over time that it is a better reflection of the skills needed in college, McDaniel College would want to reassess the role it plays in the admissions process, Hines said.

"It's the student's likelihood of being successful in college that remains the primary goal," she said.

Education Specialist Martha Gagnon, who owns an SAT Prep organization, said students will still need the same skills, including reading comprehension and higher order thinking and analysis skills, to do well on the redesigned SAT. Some of the sample questions she gives students will be adjusted.

"I won't be differing anything as far as how I approach students," she said.

The changes to the vocabulary section are warranted since many vocabulary words seen on the SAT are ones people never see again, Gagnon said.

"They really should be able to use the vocabulary that's common place on a college campus," she said.

One redesign that may be difficult for students: Some of the math portion will not allow the use of calculators. While they won't need the calculator to solve the problems, the fact that they can not use it may make students nervous, Gagnon said.

"There are a lot of students who are calculator dependent," she said.

Educators are used to change, so the adjustments are expected. But she's sorry to see the essay become optional.

"Writing is very important, and many students don't know how to write a decent essay," she said.

Since the curriculum isn't aligned to the SAT, not much will change within Carroll County Public Schools because of the redesign, according to Gregg Bricca, Director of Research and Accountability. The school system administers the SAT and reports the scores.

Schools that offer SAT prep courses will need to be redesigned as more information about the new SAT becomes available, he said.

"From the information I've seen, the changes more closely align with what we already do in English and math courses," he said.

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