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The SAT’s new answer

From an editorial Thursday on Bloomberg View:

The College Board has put future test-takers – and their high-priced tutors – on notice: Studying in school may soon be at least as important as prepping for the SAT.

College Board President David Coleman announced Wednesday changes to the test, given in some form since 1901, that will make it more accessible and, not incidentally, harder to game. If it succeeds, the new SAT could reduce the influence of the multibillion-dollar test-preparation industry, which warps educational priorities and helps exacerbate educational inequality.

The SAT, taken by some 1.66 million students in the high school class of 2013, currently comprises three sections: critical reading, mathematics and writing, which includes an essay. The essay will now be optional and will require students to analyze a passage of text rather than answer an open-ended question, so pre-packaged – and potentially false – examples are no longer as relevant. Part of the math portion will forbid calculators, so say goodbye to some of those tricks on your TI-89 Titanium graphing calculator. And students will no longer be penalized for incorrect answers, so cancel those test-prep strategy sessions.

The new exam, scheduled to be ready in two years, will now align its focus with what is taught in school.

The changes to the SAT are seemingly part of a larger, praiseworthy shift in focus by the College Board from expanding revenue to expanding accessibility.

Exactly what an improved standardized test can do to address poverty is the kind of question a reasonably intelligent high school student could tackle in an essay. All the same, the changes are worthwhile. If they can help improve educational equality and increase social mobility even a little bit, well, that is surely worth the loss of a few eccentric vocabulary words.

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