Reflections on the new SAT

Reflections on the new SAT

Annie Reznik
Associate Director of College Counseling
Moses Brown School

The last time College Board announced a new SAT, I was wrapping up my first year as an admissions counselor at the University of Maryland. When my supervisor asked for a volunteer to become a “resident expert” on standardized test changes, I said yes (just like I did to everything in my early years) and became our office’s “New SAT Expert.” On the dawn of the second new SAT of my career and on the “other side of the desk,” I am in flashback mode; thinking about the new SAT like a college admission officer rather than a college counselor. Below are some of the throwback thoughts that have bubbled up as the SAT change is upon us.

Does the new SAT serve as a stronger predictor of academic success? Is the new SAT a measure that will be useful for college admission?

Back when the SAT’s perfect score shifted to a 2400, we made the decision to consider only the Critical Reading and Math scores right away at UMD. This policy became entrenched when we learned through a validity study that the new Writing section was no stronger a predictor of an applicant’s potential for success at the University. So, I wonder about the predictive validity of the Redesigned SAT which has folded the content from the Writing section into the “Evidence Based Reading and Writing.” While touted as a better measure of college and career readiness, the adjustments better reflect the changing landscape in K-12 education (in particular, the Common Core) and not the “turning tides” of higher education admission. Where is the pragmatism of a test that helps to delineate talent among schools?

How do we compare scores?

With the previous new SAT, I eagerly waited for a concordance table that was a fixture of my bulletin board. But, when the grid comparing the ACT and new SAT came out, the table completely bypassed the Writing section and offered comparison of the CR+MA sections to the ACT—rendering the exact same comparisons as before, a 29 was still equivalent to a 1300. In awaiting the chart, I didn’t account for the importance of relativity for scores—it is absolutely critical that scores remain comparable over time. This time around new SAT scores will also be scaled with 500 as the mean score. Percentiles will also retain consistency with a fixed mean. The “real” percentile that is, not the one that appears on PSAT score reports. Turns out, the more things change the more they stay the same.

What about access? Is the new SAT a “win” or a “loss” in that department?

At UMD, we spent a great deal of time exploring and understanding complexities of access including inherent bias in standardized tests. As I think about children growing up with limited access, I wonder if the content shift may further hinder groups that have been consistently marginalized. Does the question content on the new SAT create an even graver gap? Does the racial and socioeconomic bias of the SAT remain in with the new SAT? Will improved access to test preparation a la Khan Academy close the performance gap for groups with the most limited access to education?

What will US News and World Report do?

I pay attention to the US News and World Report rankings. I do not endorse the methodology and I do not encourage families to use the rankings as a tool for their college process.  But, because the rankings often influence a college’s institutional priorities for enrollment, I pay attention. Currently, US News and World Report uses average standardized test scores of enrolled students as one factor (comprising 8% of the rating) in their annual published rankings. The publication did not incorporate the Writing section of the SAT into the calculation of rank. Will the new SAT, which has folded the writing component into the former critical reading, adjust the rankings? Did the College Board adjust the scoring with hopes that the Writing section would become more impactful?

A final thought…

The shifts of the upcoming year make me even more fervently student focused. It is my job to support students in their individual processes while also advocating for them in the greater context of our profession. My hope is that big changes on the horizon are also rooted in student-centric ideals. 

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