Saturday, December 19, 2015

Avoid the SAT

This story has been circulating pretty steadily, but if you teach juniors (or have one in your home) you need to be paying attention, because all indications are that when the new SAT rolls out in a few months, high school juniors should avoid it

The most recent sign that the College Board doesn't really know what the heck they're doing is the announcement that PSAT scores will not be out till January, a good month later than the usual unveiling. And really, we have only the College Board's assurance that they will meet the new January due date-- just as we had their assurance that scores would be out in December.

The PSAT score return is critical because it's the first chance for juniors to see how they line up with the upcoming New! Improved! SAT. Now they'll be waiting for that.

This is not the first we've heard that the New! Improved! SAT should be avoided like a bad haircut.

Way back in April, Dan Edmonds (Noodle) was in Forbes giving three reasons to avoid the revamped SAT. His reasons were

1) Lack of test prep options. Nobody has had a chance to get prepped and ready to get students prepped and ready.

2) Late results. College Board has said they won't release March test results until after the May tests. This may make sense from a "let's see what we've got here" test-norming standpoint, but still-- late is late.

3) The New! Improved! SAT is trying to look like the ACT. If you're going to take a test like the ACT, why not take the ACT?

Test prep experts have been speaking out against taking that New! Improved! SAT. Back in March, Adam Ingersoll of the Compass Group was encouraging students not to be guinea pigs for the College Board. At the same time, that advice was being echoed by Anthony Green, one of the top test prep gurus in the US, who said he's advising all of his clients to skip the new test.

"I'm recommending that none of my students take the first three rounds of the new SAT (March, May, and June of 2016)," Green said. "Why let students be guinea pigs for the College Board's marketing machine?"

Tell us what you really think, Anthony.

The "new SAT" is basically a poorly disguised marketing gimmick that's trying to:

A) Make the SAT much more like the ACT. If you look at the changes being made, you'll find that all of them are an attempt to make the test's format and material more similar to the ACT.

B) Get rid of the essay (it's now optional) and bring the grading scale back to the old, familiar 1600 that everyone knows and loves (or hates). In essence, they're admitting that the current version of the test was a mistake.

C) Attempt to make people forget that this test is an inherently unfair mechanism designed to gauge student income levels

Are test prep specialists just pissed that David Coleman's New! Improved! SAT is supposed to be test prep impervious, or maybe the test prep is being given away free by Khan Academy-- the PR is a little fuzzy on this point. Coleman has repeatedly insisted that the test now measures what high schools students really do to prepare for college-- but it's important to understand that Coleman thinks this is true because this is the same David Coleman who foisted the Common Core on US public education. He insisted that the Core would prepare students for college, and now he wants the SAT to measure what they learned under the Core.

Coleman was also hired to save the SAT, which is currently Number Two behind the ACT folks. This is the second SAT redesign in a decade (the last one gave us the SAT essay which nobody on earth thinks is an actual measure of anything).

I've looked at the marketing and the samples, and I feel comfortable saying that every failure of true educational assessment that we've seen on the Big Standardized Tests is right there in the New! Improved! SAT. This test is a crapfest-- and not just a crapfest, but an untested, unproven crapfest from a company that just rolled out the first part of its new suite of tests and now can't get the results back to students on time.

And while personalities may not be fair to factor in, and the company certainly has more hands on deck than Coleman's, David Coleman has so far in his educational leadership career (which at this point isn't even a decade old) has show far more more hubris than ability to learn, adapt, and grow. It's also worth remembering that along with no experience or knowledge of the education world, Coleman also has no experience or knowledge of the sales and marketing world. Finding powerful and connected backers won't do any good if the actual product crashes and burns and chases the customers away in droves. (Not that he hasn't tried to work around that-- watch your local state to see people fighting to make PSAT and SAT tests mandatory for all students, or part of the evaluation process).

The New! Improved! SAT has the potential to be a disaster of epic proportions, and that might be an occasion for schadenfreude if not for one thing-- a whole host of eleventh graders are counting on those scores to help them get into college. Yes, we can talk about how screwed up that whole business is, but in the meantime it's the world our students have to live in, and in that world, this spring, the ACT is their best shot.

This will be a real wrenching change for some folks. In many schools, taking the PSAT and SAT is just something you do, and students believe these issue forth from the same immutable government authorities as vaccine requirements and rules about how many courses one must complete to graduate. But as always, folks need to understand that the College Board is a company that makes a living selling a particular product, just like Ford Motor Company and Coca-Cola. That means it's caveat emptor time, and this time around, the smart emptors should avoid the SAT, and those of us who teach juniors have a responsibility to say so.

You don't have to take the SAT-- and this year at least, you shouldn't.


  1. New Coke anyone? Ah, I thought not.

  2. "1) Lack of test prep options. Nobody has had a chance to get prepped and ready to get students prepped and ready."

    With the caveat upfront that I think all standardized tests are a pile of stinking poo, this actually sounds like a good thing. Most standardized tests are largely a test of a student's ability to take a test, which in turn reflects a student's/family's ability to prep for the test/access test prep services. The new SAT might not be a valid test of anything important (in fact, it most definitely isn't), but at least it's not just a reflection of students' access to test prep.

    1. The impact of commercial test preparation appears to be very small.

      The conclusion of this study suggests that commercial test prep increases SAT scores by about 20 points, a similar increase in ACT scores, though it appears to lower the scores on the ACT reading exam.

      This is rather old though (2001 publication date), so perhaps the test prep companies have gotten better. Perhaps you could find a more recent study showing that.

    2. You are hilarious, TE. So all these rich parents are laying out thousands of dollars at Kaplan, etc. for a 20 point increase? Please tell me, O Great Economist, if that's the case, how the HELL is Kaplan staying in business?

    3. Dienne,

      They stay in business by marketing. These rich parents are, in fact, laying out thousands of dollars for a 20 point increase.

      The relationship between income levels and high test scores has much more to do with parental education and the ability to buy into good public or private schools than any commercial test prep.

      I cited the best research I could find, the work of an education school professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. If you have some evidence to back up your claim that commercial test prep increases SAT scores by more than about 20 points (around 2% for the average SAT score), please present it.

    4. Deinne,

      Did you find any evidence supporting your belief?

      I am curious, if there is no evidence for your belief, will you stop believing that commercial test preparation companies have a large impact on standardized test scores or will you continue to have the belief despite the evidence to the contrary?

  3. MICHIGAN is transitioning this year from mandating our juniors take the ACT to the SAT with only a few months notice.
    Michigan will offer the PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, and SAT with Essay during regular school hours free of charge to Michigan ninth-, 10th-, and 11th-grade students.
    The Michigan SAT test day is April 12, 2016.
    The Michigan PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 will be offered on April 12 and 13, 2016.
    We are providing professional development for Michigan educators on how to offer and administer tests. Learn more.
    We are also providing information about requesting testing accommodations.

  4. In New Hampshire they are also transitioning to the SAT as the new state test next year

  5. One way to avoid or minimize the importance of these tests is to apply to some test-optional colleges or go to a community college before transferring to a university. Here is a list of colleges with various test-optional policies:

  6. As usual, Peter's analysis is spot on. The "all new, improved" SAT is nothing more than wholesale cosmetic surgery of a fundamentally flawed product. The revised exam will be no more accurate a predictor of undergraduate success, no fairer to historically disenfranchised test-takers, and no less susceptible to high-priced coaching than the current version. For more specifics about its weaknesses, see
    The unaddressed flaws of the SAT (and ACT) are a major reasons for the recent surge of schools adopting test-optional admissions policies (50+ in the past new years). The complete database of colleges and universities that will admit all or many applicants without regard to test scores is online at:

  7. ICYMI, CT to use SAT as standardized test for ALL high school juniors starting this school year.