Counterpoint: Are SAT changes a step in the right direction?

Nicole Boyd, Staff Writer

To 11th graders, three letters of the alphabet are infamous: S, A, and T.  Standing for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” these initials represent an exam that has long been the bane of every high school student’s existence.  The SAT was originally designed to determine a student’s preparedness for college and provide institutions with a method of comparing one applicant from another.  However, recently this test has come under major scrutiny.  Deeming College Board’s exam as an inaccurate measure of academic aptitude, critics have claimed that the SAT has become disconnected from the work completed in high school and that students in privileged areas have gained unfair advantages from prep courses and tutoring.

For these reasons, David Coleman, the president of College Board, has begun to revise his controversial test.

Some people support Coleman’s changes wholeheartedly.

“It’s great that the SAT has realized its faults,” said junior Laura Russo.

Opinions such as this are not illogical.  Admittedly, many of the proposed revisions have good intentions.  By altering his exam, Coleman wishes to align its content more with high school curriculums and eradicate the tips and tricks that many teens rely on for success.

In doing so, he hopes that he will ultimately discourage the tutoring and coaching that give affluent students an unfair “edge” in college admissions.  However, truthfully, the majority of the expected alterations are likely to either have no effect or, in some cases, do more harm than good.

College Board intends to make extensive structural changes to the most recent version of the exam.  First, they want to revert the current 2400-point scale to the old 1600-point scale.  Additionally, they plan to eliminate the guessing penalty and count the once mandatory essay as an optional and separate score.  To a similar end, they also aim to alter the content in each section.

The math section, for instance, will include more curriculum-based questions, while the reading, or “evidence-based reading and writing,” section will feature documents from various disciplines, including the sciences and social sciences.

Finally, the vocabulary section, widely known to include esoteric words, will now test on terms that are supposedly “more common” in college courses.

In the long run, these alterations will not have their intended impact.  Words that have been designated by College Board as “arcane” and “rarified” actually appear regularly in publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, and even The Schreiber Times.  Therefore, filling the vocabulary section with so-called “practical” words will unnecessarily dumb the test down and remove the incentive for students to improve their lexicon.

Making the essay section optional further perpetuates this trend.  In college and even the professional world, writing is perhaps the most crucial skill that an individual can have.

Thus, including the essay only as an optional component may ironically decrease the accuracy of the SAT in predicting future performance.

What is more, with the rise of social media and other forms of electronic communication, proficient writers are becoming few and far between.  Therefore, undermining the writing section will also undermine an essential skill and push an underappreciated art form into extinction.

Instead the SAT should reevaluate the essay grading process.  Research performed by Dr. Les Perelman, a professor at MIT, demonstrated that essay length played the largest role in determining score.  More emphasis should be placed on actual content instead of judging who can write the most in 25 minutes.

College Board’s attempt to help low-income families may be equally futile.  In addition to changing the test itself, David Coleman has proposed providing less-fortunate students with fee waivers for up to four colleges as well as a variety of free online practice problems and instructional videos.

However, it is unlikely that these measures will eliminate the inequality that exists among the rich and the poor.  Yes, this novel SAT will probably discredit the popular prep methods at first.

However, humans are inherently competitive.  Therefore, parents will always seek that extra “edge” for their children, and entrepreneurs will accordingly respond to their demand by developing new services for purchase.

While it is a step in the right direction, the SAT revisions are merely a band-aid on a test that is quickly losing credibility.

But unfortunately, the proposed alterations have pitfalls. Aside from holding the power to “dumb down” the SAT is only being revised in response to financial competition and for selfish intentions.

“College Board is just trying to make the test more similar to the ACT because they have been losing business, said senior Brian Sims.  “In truth, the SAT or, more generally, the college process may never be perfect.  However, with more careful consideration, perfection may almost be attained.”