Math teacher and Testive Coach, Brian Skeffington, talks about how the NEW SAT is better-aligned with the Common Core curriculum and how that will affect students.
From a teachers point of view, the College Board’s newly designed SAT is long overdue.
While the old test was designed to assess a wide range of concepts spanning many different, and misaligned, curricula across the country, the new test aims to take advantage of Common Core Standards as its foundation. This shift now allows students to better showcase their understanding of these concepts.
Even more importantly, the concepts covered and types of questions asked on the new tests will be influenced by the best teaching practices seen across the country.
What does this mean? It means that students who put forth the effort on a daily basis in the classroom, and have teachers implementing best teaching practices, should see results that are directly correlated with their efforts.
NEW SAT promotes depth of knowledge
I love the ideas behind the new SAT test. Given that this test is one of the main drivers of a student’s acceptance into colleges, it should serve as the best indicator of that student’s potential success. The key term that College Board is using to explain their motivation behind the changes is, “college and career readiness.”
The old test delineated subject matter in a way that did not allow for students to show much depth of knowledge or understanding. The types of questions targeted specific concepts that had little or no relevance to concepts learned in other subjects.
In my experience, students learn best and achieve deeper levels of understanding when concepts in one subject matter cross over to those of another subject. For example, interpreting random graphical data in math class seems pointless to some students. However, when interpreting that same graphical data as it applies to historical, scientific, or other content they are learning in other classes, the importance of the data becomes more clear and relevant. This type of interdisciplinary application of concepts is at the heart of the new test.
Lack of deductions boosts students testing confidence
In addition to the conceptual changes mentioned above, the College Board has also changed the length of the test and the scoring methodology. The new test will have fewer questions (154 compared to 171) and will be shorter in length (180 minutes compared to 225 minutes). This will allow for more time per question, albeit a small amount, which makes sense given the complexity and critical thinking necessary to answer the new questions.
One of the main features that should help students is the implementation of the “rights-only” scoring system. On the old test, students gained 1 point for a correct question, 0 points for an omitted question, and lost .25 points for a wrong question.
This discouraged students from guessing if they were unsure of an answer, and also penalized students for making mistakes, no matter how small. In my experience as an SAT tutor, leaving questions blank severely hurts students’ confidence levels throughout the test and increases already high stress levels, leading to further difficulties later in the test. Hopefully, the new scoring system will help these issues.
Lastly, the Essay portion of the test will now be optional and graded separately from the Reading/Writing and Math sections, which will each be scored out of a total of 800. Although many colleges will still require the Essay portion, this will help students who would otherwise be forced to write an essay unnecessarily, again, relieving some stress from the test day.
With all great change comes even bigger challenges
As a high school math teacher, the new test presents enormous challenges. My district adopted the Common Core Standards a few years ago and we are still working on curriculum alignment to ensure that these standards translate across all grade levels. However, as is always the case, we simply do not have the time to implement all of the changes at once.
The new standards bring with them a new way of learning, and it is extremely difficult to teach under Common Core Standards at the high school level when students have not been properly taught under these same standards throughout their education. We spend a great deal of time at the high school level breaking students out of the old mindset of memorization, and getting them to open up to broader conceptual understanding of topics.
At the same time, the new test reaffirms what we should be doing as teachers, which is preparing students to think critically and analytically in order to apply knowledge gained in academic content areas to a wide range of interdisciplinary problems.
In my daily practice, I reference the phrase “quality over quantity”. I would rather have my students complete a handful of complex problems that encourage them to exhibit depth of understanding of the underlying concepts as opposed to solving 100 problems that span individual “types” of problems.
We need to do a better job of making education an accumulation of knowledge that can be applied across a multitude of content areas, rather than teaching one-off standards that sometimes seem to have no relevance to each other.
Students need to “engage” in school to excel on the NEW SAT
For students, there are numerous challenges with the new test. First, students must rely on their teachers to do their jobs in building a solid foundation to account for the more complex nature of the test. If teachers are not exposing students to these types of questions on a daily basis, those students will not perform well when they take the actual test.
Hopefully, the adoption of Common Core Standards will help this, but lack of time and funding causes delays in our educational system. Luckily, SAT Prep resources such as Testive can help ameliorate this issue and provide students with a free opportunity to improve on their own.
Along these same lines, students have to work diligently to break out of the mindset of skimming the surface of topics in their high school curricula, even if that strategy has helped them achieve good grades along the way. I witness this problem everyday in my classroom. Specifically in math, students want to know how to get the answer – i.e. give me an equation and I can solve it – without putting forth the effort to understand the “why”.
To fix this issue, students need to become more active learners, asking questions when they are not totally comfortable with a given topic, and never accepting a teacher’s response of, “just because”.
Critical thinking is the key
To sum up, the new SAT will surely be a much better indicator of college and career success than the old version, as it assesses students’ abilities to apply knowledge rather than memorize it. No matter the college major or profession of choice for students, the ability to think critically and incorporate multiple ideas into solving problems is crucial.
Having said that, we must deal with the growing pains of any new standardized test, and adjust it as necessary during the first few years. The College Board will have to work hand-in-hand with colleges to develop a fair curve for the new test to make sure students are not unfairly penalized.
Also, teachers’ curricula need to align to the appropriate standards so that students are constantly getting SAT prep work just by being in their classrooms.
Lastly, students need to recognize the importance of the test, even if they disagree with the reasoning behind it, and take advantage of resources such as Testive to make sure they can achieve their own personal goals.