kitchen table math, the sequel: Any Comments on the New SAT?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Any Comments on the New SAT?

For 2016, the SAT is reverting back to a 1600 based test, with the composition section optional.

The composition will be about 50 minutes rather than 25, and will focus on evidence rather than opinion.

I expect that most colleges will require this section.

"Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as "prevaricator" and "sagacious" in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job."

"Currently, students lose a quarter of a point for wrong answers, but no points for omitted responses. Moving forward, they will simply receive credit for correct answers."

Just this one change will squeeze the bell curve higher and reduce differentiation.

The new math test will have a portion where calculators are prohibited.

"It [math] will also focus on narrower topics — described in a College Board press release as "problem solving and data analysis; the heart of algebra; and passport to advanced math" — that Coleman suggested will most contribute to a student's college and career readiness."

"advanced math"? Remember that college and career readiness means passing a course in college algebra.

""No longer will the SAT only have disconnected problems or tricky situations students won't likely see again," he said"

How else will they create a bell curve at the top end using a limited range of material?

What do colleges think of these changes? Did the College Board ask them?

"It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become disconnected from the work of our high schools," he said.

This is interesting. They don't want to be seen as just following the ACT and they are trashing their competitor at the same time.

"Mr. Coleman believes changing the focus of the exam also will change instruction, from rote learning of SAT vocabulary from flashcards to deeper learning. He said the new SAT "will measure the best of what students are working on in class -- the work that most prepares them for college and career success.""

Which is it? Will the new SAT reflect what's going on in class, or will it be used to drive what should be going on in class?

"...that such standardized tests can create "unproductive anxiety" for students and lead to expensive private test prep and coaching that "reinforces privilege rather than merit."

Coleman can't have it both ways. The point of the test is to show how students compare on a nationally normed test. The score will be used by colleges to separate them. That's the whole point of their product. There will ALWAYS be test prep that favors students with involved parents or those willing to spend the money. The only way to eliminate the benefit of test prep is to truncate the bell curve at the top end. Many more students will then get perfect scores. How many colleges will want the scores from a test that shows how many students can tie their shoes?

I like it that they want to eliminate those questions used only for creating the bell curve at the top end, but wonder what they are going to replace it with. Will there be more content, say from their SAT II tests? Will they add AP-level questions? Or, will the new SAT drive the trend towards less academic differentiation and more fuzzy holistic college admissions? Even the SAT II tests and the AP tests can't differentiate students at the upper end of the curve.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The elimination of the guessing correction does not compress the curve significantly, since students could guess before—it just adds noise because student are now required to guess. They are adding an incompleteness penalty.

See my comments at

Auntie Ann said...

I don't think this will help them with their main goal, which is to claw back marketshare from the ACT.

I also don't think the SAT's cozy relationship with the Common Core will help them. The Common Core is particularly weak in college-prep math, so aligning the SAT with the Common Core makes no sense: a college entrance exam aligned to NON college-prep math standards?

They seem to be looking in the wrong direction; they are looking down to the high schools instead of up at the colleges and asking themselves what colleges need.

The tests need to be rigorous and to push the boundaries of students' abilities--that's the only way colleges will view them as useful. A weakened vocabulary section and math that requires nothing more than solid algebra skills won't show colleges who the top students are, because it never asks the top students to answer questions only they will know.


SteveH said...


Lower end students will get a free boost - one point for each good guess and no negative quarter-point penalties. For example, in the current system, if you get 44 out of 54 math questions correct, and you skip 5 and you get 5 wrong, then your raw score would be 44-1.25 = 42.75, rounded up to 43. On the third Blue Book test, your SAT score would be 650. With the new system, your raw score would be 44 + 2 (due to guessing) = 46, and that would give you a SAT Math score of 680.

The better students typically answer everything and will only get a quarter point boost in a few cases. There will be no rounding issues, but the better students won't get any full point freebies. There won't be the three strikes and you're out problem, but that will only help a very few.

Auntie Ann said...

In the end, this is all seems to boil down to what so much that happens in the high school-to-college jump boils down to: protecting high schools (and schools further down the line) from accountability. They aren't educating kids, and the college entrance exams keep showing the world that.

So, the tests need to change to protect the system.

SteveH said...

"I don't think this will help them with their main goal, which is to claw back marketshare from the ACT."

I agree. It may even do the opposite. What happens in the near future before they can recalibrate the bell curve to their new test? What happens if 15 percent get 800s? And, if they quickly recalibrate the curve, what will colleges think when one error might bring your score down from 750 to 700?

"I also don't think the SAT's cozy relationship with the Common Core will help them."

I agree completely. They can't match what makes the K-12 pedagogues happy and what will make colleges happy. They have to look at what their main customer wants. Perhaps, however, they see the Common Core as their future market. They will lose.

My advice for the near future is to focus on the ACT and look for outside national tests (e.g. AMC math tests) that are known and respected by colleges.

Anonymous said...

Removing the guessing penalty will make things different. But I won't say that this change alone is that big a deal, especially for high scorers.

I have always told students to answer the questions that they work on, but to go slow so that they don't outrun their "zone", accumulating silly errors along the way. Now, I expect to have a harder time convincing weaker students to "omit" the hardest questions, especially now that by "omit" I mean "guess quickly and randomly". Also, I think it is unreasonable to expect that students won't fill in blanks randomly after the section is over. You don't even have to open your test book to do that. It would be like erasing stray pencil marks -- just a form of answer-sheet maintenance. I have a hard time seeing that as cheating.

I'm sure we will have more to discuss once we see some sample tests.


SteveH said...

It all depends on how they change the math test. If they eliminate the trick questions as separators, then they will have to add advanced material. Does anyone know whether they plan on adding any trig, as in the ACT? Then again, the trig problems on the ACT are easy because they think they are advanced.

Glen said...

We keep talking about what "colleges" want, but who are "colleges"? Admissions officers? Professors? It seems to me that if the SAT becomes less able to discriminate good from better at the top end, and grade inflation has the same effect, admissions officers win. The larger the percentage of undifferentiated "qualified candidates," the more cover they have for basing admissions on their own "holistic" political preferences.

The cost of dealing with the greater variance among the admissions officers' "equally qualified" candidates will be borne by the professors.

Are we sure that this isn't what "colleges" want?

Auntie Ann said...

Good point, Glen. Maybe this is what admissions departments want--it will give them more flexibility to choose lesser students.

SteveH said...

For many students, there are no stretch colleges. It's also not about strict probabilities. You don't necessarily improve your chances by applying to many schools. It's all about what is happening in admissions when they make the final decisions. It could come down to whether the people in admissions (not professors) think you are a nice person - that you would be interesting to have a cup of coffee with. (We've been told that several times during tours/info sessions.) I would love to be a fly on the wall during the last sort/selection. I think it would be less about holism and more about competing interests, few of which are academic once you are in the bucket.

Anonymous said...

I admit that I have not followed the common core roll-out that closely. Like other bold new re-inventions, I am hoping to be able to ignore it. So if I am raising a point that has already been discussed, my apologies. That said...

Did Coleman actually describe advanced math as preparing students for "College Algebra"? And if so, did anyone call him on it and ask him to define the term? Or was everyone too numbed by the fact that educationists ALWAYS use words that don't mean what they say, in fact don't mean anything. They are not designed to be thought about but rather to be "felt" about. But if you do look at the words "College Algebra" you have to wonder what he means.

Can he mean abstract, modern algebra with its left cosets and right cosets and groups, rings and fields? He might mean that, but I suspect not.

But what else is there? If he means "Algebra" as in the study of functions, equations, lines, graphs and such, that is NOT a college subject. For our most talented students, that is not even a high school subject.

I'm used to not understanding what educationalists write about teaching. It always makes me feel impaired which is why I try to ignore it. It's bad for my self esteem.


SteveH said...

"Did Coleman actually describe advanced math as preparing students for "College Algebra"? And if so, did anyone call him on it and ask him to define the term?"

I've always hoped that Common Core would at least draw attention to this curriculum gap. PARCC (to be used by our state), however, has a highest defined PLD math level ("Distinguished") that only means that one has a good probability of passing a college course in algebra. PARCC specifically does not define a STEM curriculum path in K-12, not even as an extra recommendation. It's like a smoking gun. Only those kids with extra help at home can get the required curriculum and expectations of mastery. Of course, this has been going on for years and years, but here we have the Common Core specifically defining the curriculum gap. Here we have PARCC specifically stating that even their highest level only means passing college algebra.

You have to read PARCC's documents. They go so far as to say that level 4 (College Readiness) means that you have a 75% probability of passing an average college algebra (or equivalent) course. Nobody seems to blink an eye when they say that this level of expectation starts in the earliest grades. How do they think calculus-ready students are prepared?

What do we get as an explanation? Nothing. Even Sandra Stotsky has trouble getting people to look at what's staring them in the face. It's incredible.

I've been watching Coleman to see how the College Board will deal with this gap. They could, using their Pre-AP program, drive AP expectations down into the lower grades. They could at least document how one progresses from K-6 Common Core to AP Calculus - their own test!!! Instead, he is succumbing to the Common Core agenda and level of expectations. The College Board (and ACT) may be able to define an equivalent SAT and ACT scoring calibration back into the lower grades that might look linear, but parents helping their kids at home will know that the linear curve will hide nonlinear expectations. They will see kids with equivalent scores in K-6 magically separate in the later grades - some going on to AP Calculus, and some struggling to get through Algebra II. They will blame what's going on in the later grades, not the required nonlinear skills help some students received outside of class.

Ultimately, these people are just not honest with themselves. They know that something is going on, but they really don't want to find out that many of their beliefs are completely wrong. It's not a problem with engagement, but they will try really, really hard to prove it.

Anonymous said...

I understand some people are unhappy that the current SAT doesn't, and the new SAT will even less, distinguish kids whose math abilities are one in a hundred thousand from kids whose math abilities are merely one in ten thousand.

Is it worth asking whether the SAT is the correct test to do this? Are there no better ways to do it?

I imagine that college admissions might be happy if the SAT could distinguish between those students who will need remedial classes and those who won't.

From published accounts (e.g. see today's NYT), part of the motivation for the change was the huge cost and effort wasted on kids cramming for the test. Kids and their parents are still going to do that; maybe the time will be better spent now if they can best do it by familiarizing themselves with classic and foundational texts.

More kids take test prep than calculus. There's a bigger problem right there.

SteveH said...

"... whose math abilities are one in a hundred thousand from kids whose math abilities are merely one in ten thousand."

Your calibration clearly shows your anti-any-test bias.

"Are there no better ways to do it?"

I'm all for eliminating SAT and just using SAT II tests. Is that OK?

" admissions might be happy if the SAT could distinguish between those students who will need remedial classes and those who won't."

Clearly, that's the corner that Coleman is boxing them into, but very few colleges need only that information. What will take its place for distinguishing ability levels above that? What products will the College Board offer? Will colleges change to ask for only SAT II tests? That would save extra prep time and focus more on content and skills. To that I wouldn't say nay.

"... part of the motivation for the change was the huge cost and effort wasted on kids cramming for the test."

Baloney. Whenever there is a competitive test that affects opportunities, many will work (cram or otherwise) very hard to improve their chances. Usually, those are the kids who need the prep the least. For most kids, the time saved would be minimal or non-existent.

"... maybe the time will be better spent now if they can best do it by familiarizing themselves with classic and foundational texts."

"Familiarizing?" I expect my son's schools to set a much higher standard than "familiarizing". And what nationally-normed tests will determine whether they learned any of this information?

"More kids take test prep than calculus. There's a bigger problem right there."

This is not a zero-sum question. There will always be national tests that colleges want. There will always be people who prepare, and there is also a need for more kids who are prepared for calculus. The lack of calculus students starts with fuzzy curriculum problems and low expectations in K-6, far, far away from any time saved on college test prep. In fact, better math teaching in the early grades will lead to students who are more likely to prepare for college-required tests.

As students learn more, they want proper tests that are able to differentiate their abilities from those who are just "familiar" with subjects. The problem is not tests, but bad tests and/or grading.

Auntie Ann said...

Here is a pretty thorough run-down:

The SAT Upgrade Is a Big Mistake by Peter Wood

Auntie Ann said...

The link:

SteveH said...

I can't imagine that the College Board will let the SAT slide to be equivalent to Accuplacer, another one of their products. So the big question is how will it change if it won't be in an ACT direction? Ultimately, I think it's mostly talk just to cater to the huge cash cow of Common Core. They will still want the best students to take the test, so they will have to make it difficult in some regard. I'll wager that the tricky problems will still be there just to create some tiny differentiation at the top end of the curve. There will still be the same students getting the same test prep. The College Board will take the new test results and fix it so that the bell curve looks the same and is centered in the same location. They might have a few rough years, however, until they tweak the questions to get the shape they want. They can't have too many getting perfect scores because you can't give a 770 to someone who got all of the questions correct. However, they don't seem to mind dropping scores by 20, 30, or more points with just one more error.

However, life will go on just the same as before. The same kids, with help and high expectations at home, will get to algebra in 8th grade and the honors and AP classes in high school.

Coleman is even confused about whether the SAT will drive or reflect the Common Core. Actually, it will do neither. Our high school honors and AP teachers laugh when they have to connect their courses to Common Core expectations. Coleman knows about the AP/Common Core gap. He knows that there is missing content and expectations starting in the lower grades. Rejiggering the SAT will not fix that. Calibrating the SAT into the lower grades, like with the ACT, will only hide the nonlinear change in expectations with a linear function of expected scores. It's all smoke and mirrors. They are not dealing with the curriculum gap.

Lisa Jenifer said...

It's all about what is happening in admissions when they make the final decisions. It could come down to whether the people in admissions and more that I think the trig problems on the ACT are easy because they think they are advanced.
9th Grade Math Practice

Anonymous said...

With all the discussion about standardized testing on this blog, I'm surprised I get no hits searching for discussion of Campbell's Law:

Looks more than sensible to me.


SteveH said...

Ravitch has changed over the years. She has become politicized. Her beliefs drive her arguments and choice of facts, and she has turned very pro-teacher. She is also very anti-charter and anti-school choice. Nobody looks to her for independent thought or for advocating parents' interests.

"Campbell’s Law explains why high-stakes testing promotes cheating, narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, and other negative behaviors."

There have always been high stakes tests. Students are tested and flunk out. The SAT is high stakes. The problem with CC is not testing, but low expectations and the inability to properly prepare kids for anything but the very low college end. Everyone knows that, except for some educational pedagogues.

CC will also not narrow the curriculum. It won't affect our honors or AP classes. Most college-bound students (and their teachers) completely ignore CC. I do, however, worry about how it might narrow the middle school math curriculum, but most parents and schools understand the need to keep algebra I in 8th grade. Other than that, life will go on as usual, except that many will fight to put the high-stakes onus on the students and not the schools.

One solution is to not set any expectations for schools, but allow full school choice. However, Ravitch advocates neither higher school expectations or the pressure from having the customer (parents) select another school. She mostly blames poverty and points to studies that show that "teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains." No mention is made about the curriculum, expectations, and separating kids by willingness or ability. Clearly, her arguments are all driven by her beliefs.

CC is a big waste of money, but many who dislike CC come at it from different directions based on quite different goals. Ravitch is coming at it strictly from a unionized, public teacher advocacy viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of discussions about Campbell's Law that have nothing to do with Ravitch (she wasn't my topic).

How about the original paper:


SteveH said...

This is the "law".

"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

Is this true for every case, and at what point does the harm outweigh the good?

This is Ravitch's interpretation:

"Campbell’s Law explains why high-stakes testing promotes cheating, narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, and other negative behaviors."

I surely hope that teachers test what they teach. The implication is that the government should not be forcing a curriculum on teachers. If the local schools and teachers decide, then testing is OK? However, schools are like governments who dictate curriculum and pedagogy to students. Parents pay the bills and have no say or choice. What about the "law" of taxation without representation?

She then goes back to quote the paper:

"In his 1976 paper, Campbell also wrote that ”achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways. (Similar biases of course surround the use of objective tests in courses or as entrance examinations.)”

"Educational status?"

I have no idea what this is. One could say that high expectations, clearly defined, cause corruption. If the government imposes expectations on schools, some will cheat. If schools impose high expectations on students, some will cheat. Is the solution to not set standards?

There is another fundamental law, and it's about competition. However many, like Ravitch conveniently ignore that law when it comes to charter schools and choice. Apparently, Campbell's law works but school competition does not. It's amazing how arguments slither back and forth.

There is another reality (law) of education that is not driven by CC. That's the competition to get into college. High schools have national AP classes they have to follow. Students take national exams. Where is the corruption? Where is the narrowing of curriculum? It actually does the opposite. High schools offer honors classes to back up and lead into AP classes. If they don't provide the proper content and grading structure, their students will not get into good colleges. Where is the corruption there? If schools give out easy A's, colleges will find out.

There was nothing stopping CC from defining different levels and doing it right. The College Board could define "Pre-AP" curricula and national tests. Where is the corruption? How bad is teaching and testing to these curricula if they are good? And who gets to decide if it's good? One could argue that the problem specifically relates to the government, but Campbell claims his law is more general than that.

There are lots of reasons to not like CC, but Ravitch's use of Campbell's law is just a way to make her opinion and agenda appear more credible because she is quoting a "law".

Why isn't Ravitch talking about having the government set no standards, but allow for full school choice? No, apparently, the public school monopoly is good, but specific expectations and parent choice are bad. It's OK if affluent parents have choice, but when urban parents clamor for charter schools, people like Ravitch claim that they don't know what's best for their kids.

SteveH said...

My view is that the biggest laws are supply/demand and choice/competition. Whenever there is greater demand than supply, some on the demand side will spend more or do whatever they can to increase their odds. Some will cheat. In most cases, people choose to play the game. Some might not like competition in life, but individuals ultimately have the choice to play the game.

Campbell is really only talking about what happens when governments try to create good solutions. Governments set many standards and laws that become a do it or pay the price situation. It's not a carrot, but a stick. This also generates situations where people will cheat. Cheating happens when there is a lot to gain or when there is the potential for pain. Governments generally use only pain as a driving force and that limits what can be achieved on the high side. But is the solution to eliminate laws or expectations? People will speed, but use radar detectors. People will hide their money offshore to avoid taxes. My view is that governments have two different goals. The first is to provide a safety net or minimal standard, and the second is to encourage the best individual efforts and results. The Common Core can't do both. It can provide a low end safety net standard, but it can't provide a path for individual kids to reach their educational potential. That requires a different program; one that targets individual drive and determination. In education, this means individual school choice and incentives. Look at what the G.I. Bill did after WW2. It targeted individuals and it was "a major contribution to America's stock of human capital that sped long-term economic growth." However, many do not like it when governments offer opportunities to individuals. They think that only the affluent will have the ability and support to get the benefit. However, when urban parents in our area marched for and demanded more charter schools, those in the public school educational system fought to deny any charters. Some specifically referred to the unfairness of self-selection.

College readiness and beyond have to be achieved with individual carrots, not sticks for schools and individual students (high stakes tests). College bound students already have the college admittance carrot and standards to drive them (GPA, AP, SAT, ACT). They just need scholarship incentives and school choice. How much money is being spent and will be spent on Common Core college readiness? That money would produce more college readiness by offering the incentives directly to individual students. One source says that "states will spend up to an estimated $10 billion up front, then as much as $800 million per year for the first seven years that the controversial program is up and running." The money is flowing into the wrong end and parents are not part of any sort of quality feedback loop. Another "law" is that when big government money flows, lots of self-interest groups siphon off as much money as they can. Of course, they claim to know what's best for individuals.