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college admissions
The New SAT Won’t Work

Tomorrow morning, hundreds of thousands of high school students will anxiously make their way to testing centers across the country for the first offering of the “new” SAT—the latest version of the iconic, 90 year-old college entrance exam.

The College Board has set high expectations for the new test, which is supposed to track high school curricula more closely by scrapping sophisticated vocabulary, focusing more heavily on reading, and dispensing with difficult math puzzles. In his 2014 speech announcing the changes, and in a subsequent public relations campaign, College Board President David Coleman presented the reforms as a social justice cause. The new SAT would be less convoluted, more difficult for rich kids to cram for with expensive tutors, and level the playing field for minorities and low-income students. Coleman even brought the historian Robert Caro on the stage to read a passage from his book about Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty efforts—a not-so-subtle suggestion that changing the SAT would similarly expand opportunity for those at the bottom of the ladder.

It was not quite clear then how this was supposed to work (Can’t rich kids hire tutors for the new version of the test, too? If the tough questions are scrubbed from the test, won’t it lose its utility for colleges trying to assess applicants’ academic ability?) and it is still not clear today, on the eve of the new test’s debut. As two SAT tutors write in a critical essay at Hechinger Report:

Revising the SAT is unlikely to do much of anything for low-income and first-generation students unless the content or structure of the old test was inherently biased against them. Ultimately, no change to the test will actually erase socioeconomic disparities because tests are diagnostic tools rather than instruments of change.

Think of the SAT as a thermometer. Both report symptoms of underlying disease, and we thus want both measures to be as accurate as possible. The new SAT might be that. We do not however use a thermometer to treat pneumonia, and neither should we try to use the SAT to redress the deep socioeconomic inequities that it reflects, or perhaps even exacerbates.

We could be wrong, of course. The scores from tomorrow’s administration could indeed show a dramatic narrowing of the performance gap between privileged and less-privileged students, even as it continues to differentiate students by skill level (as the Hechinger Report piece says, “what good would a reading test be that doesn’t penalize people who are not good at reading?”). But we have yet to see any persuasive evidence that the new test will have this effect.

As we’ve written before, “We have the terms ‘privileged’ and ‘disadvantaged’ for a reason: Some people are born into more fortunate circumstances than others. Tinkering with the SAT won’t change this fundamental fact of life.” The College Board should do everything in its power to make the SAT as fair and predictive as possible. But it was probably a mistake—and a distraction from other, more important efforts—for the test-maker to create the expectation that its revamped exam would deal a major blow to socioeconomic inequality in America.

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  • WigWag

    Of course the new SAT won’t work. Why should it; the old SAT didn’t work either. The College Board, which owns the test, is a repugnant institution and its President, David Coleman is repulsive.

    Coleman, the father of the Common Core, is the single greatest villain in the quest of our nation’s elites to destroy American education so the system can be resurrected in a fashion that they support.

    These elites, mostly hedge fund billionaires like Paul Tudor Jones, real estate moguls like Eli Broad and high tech creeps like Bill Gates, have no respect for average Americans. They’re convinced that ordinary people are too stupid, too confused and too lazy to oversee the education of their own children. To these elites, individual children are little more than data points to be blended along with their new-fangled but completely untested educational ideas and a healthy dose of federal control in the hope that what emerges will be magically better than the ingredients that went into the mixture.

    Coleman has aligned the SAT with the Common Core despite the fact that parents all over the United States have made plain that they want the common core killed.

    The hedge fund crowd and their real estate and high tech allies don’t care. They have nothing but contempt for the aspirations and intelligence of average Americans. Coleman is their tool; he’s bought and paid for.

    The SAT is a fraud because the College Board is a fraud. So is David Coleman.

    • johngbarker


    • FriendlyGoat

      There is the inconvenient problem that many, many “ordinary people are too stupid, too confused and too lazy to oversee the education of their own children.” This was sadly obvious when I attended small-town public school 50-60 years ago and it is still true. I’m not insulting “everybody” and certainly not my small-town school which was actually better run in those days than many similar schools in the area and state. But that result was the effort of maybe half of the adult citizens and another half of the parents were rather clearly disengaged—-as evidenced by their kids being disengaged. For many kids then—-and now—the public schools are the best thing going on in their lives. Eli Broad and Bill Gates are not REALLY either dumb about what can be observed in that regard or evil for wanting to do the best we can with it.

      • WigWag

        They are evil, unctuous and and arrogant. The idea that running a hedge fund, real estate company or high tech company means that you have any expertise in education is absurd on its face. It’s just another example of the top one percent thinking they’re better than everyone else. Or to put it more accurately, it’s an example of the top one hundredth of the one percent insisting they have the right to tell everyone else what’s good for them. Who do they get to do their dirty work for them? Credentialed but moronic social engineers who will do whatever their masters tell them.

        If you’re right, why stop at primary and secondary education? Why not let the billionaire class decide what pediatricians a child should see instead of letting parents make that decision. Why not let the billionaires make the decision about what television shows the youngster should watch, what music they should listen to and what time they should be tucked in at night? Why not defer to the billionaire class and their specially selected dietitians when it’s time to decide what should be served for dinner? After all, thanks mostly to Bill Clinton, we’ve let the billionaire class decide how the pension funds of ordinary Americans should be invested.

        That’s the problem FG; most Democratic politicians, including the ones you plan to vote for are owned lock, stock and barrel by the donor class. Sanders is an exception but he’s not getting the nomination.

        Hillary Clinton is a slave to the very same billionaires who insist that just because of their wealth, they’re entitled to dictate to parents how their kids are educated. Face it FG, Hillary is their whore.

        Don’t bother telling me that the Republicans are worse; I already know it. When it comes to the billionaires who want to tell the rest of us how to live, it’s about 50/50 between the two parties. What ties the Republican billionaires and the Democratic billionaires together is the fact that they mostly agree about domestic and foreign policy and they are exactly alike in their contempt for the average Joe. Almost all of the Republicans are every bit the whore that Hillary is.

        Except the one traitor to his class who is running for President. That would be Donald Trump.

        • FriendlyGoat

          I’m not a fan of billionaires particularly, knowing as I do, that we would not have so many of them meddling in so many areas of our lives if we were not so busy CONSTANTLY worshiping a culture of high-end tax cuts.

          That aside, yes, I actually do wish that the Gates Foundation somehow had control over what television is watched by children in America. It could not POSSIBLY make worse choices in that regard than the “free market” of commercial TV. And, yes, the Gates Foundation probably could extend the life of half of Americans with its
          dietitians too—–compared to the junk food market. Bear in mind, though, that I’m more a fan of the Gates Foundation because of Melinda than Bill. I have always believed that SHE has been the driving force behind where Bill’s fortune is headed (as well as that of Warren Buffett), and the policy subjects they address. Thank heavens we at least still have enough estate tax that (as Buffett has pointed out) there really is no choice but philanthropy. Why do we need to gripe about them?

          • Boritz

            Make them watch only programs brought to you by Fjohürs Lykkewe.

        • Tom

          It’s true, Donald Trump isn’t a political whore.

          He’s a political pimp–which, in my opinion, is worse than a political whore.

      • Dragblacker

        “There is the inconvenient problem that many, many “ordinary people ARE too stupid, too confused and too lazy to oversee the education of their own children.” ”

        The thing is, the “elites” who view themselves as better than the rabble are often no better than that rabble they despise. Sometimes they’re even worse because of their vanity. The lesson here is that all humans are corrupt. That’s why religions exist, to allow the lotus to grow out of that muck if only a little bit.

        • FriendlyGoat

          And, we have to make some kind of effort to educate children, whether we are “all corrupt” or not—–or do you just philosophize on generalities?

          • Dragblacker

            Not my point? I was talking about how the so-called elites aren’t as elite as they’d like to think they are.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Too many people are hung up on being mad at “elites”, as though anyone who deigns to not behave as a bumpkin is evil or illegitimate in motivation. The fact is, only people as rich as Duck Dynasty get to REALLY walk around in life pretending they “are the same as” the Robertsons of Duck Dynasty. Everyone else who looks like Duck Dynasty people will have their kids in the public schools. There those children will be taught gumption and civility—–or they won’t be. If they are taught gumption and civility, it will generally be because of the efforts of people who are more liberal than not.

    • Neo

      So when did Bill Gates finish his degree at Harvard ?

  • Fat_Man

    It won’t work, if you want to make a test that will give equal scores across lines of race, class, and wealth. Of course not that expectation is ridiculous on its face.

    It will work, if it is intended to disguise what a dismal job the schools are doing at educating the country’s children.

    On a deeper level, this is what a student of D’Tocquville would expect to have happen. Intellectual excellence is aristocratic. Democracy will will oppose it. The people will do every thing they can to make sure that all the children are above average in Lake Woebegone.

    Finally, for those of you who agree that the current system of college admissions allows a deeply unfair power to be held by an completely unaccountable, faceless bureaucracy. This shows why that system cannot be replaced by a system of testing. The only possible way out that will be both fair in everyone’s understanding, and widely acceptable is a lottery

  • Frank Natoli

    The solution is already in hand. The city where I was born and raised administers civil service tests for which virtually everyone with a pulse gets a perfect or near perfect score. THEN, those doing the hiring can get subjective, which was the goal from the beginning.

  • Frank Messmann

    The SAT originally tested IQ. It did not test learned knowledge but raw intelligence. Taking a preparatory course did not in those days raise a score very much. Those “uncommon” vocabulary words and the analogies were actually good predictors of IQ. Yes, wealthier students did better than poorer students — largely because their parents were more intelligent, and intelligence is largely inherited. Today in an attempt to enroll more minority students, colleges do not want a test that measures IQ.

  • SineWaveII

    Future headline “Colleges unable to explain sudden unexpected decline in graduation rates. Record number of new college students failing to graduate.”

  • PoincareConjecture

    Set a minimal standards and GPA and then use lottery to admit students.
    The straight A type of students are good at one thing: Acing tests. But they lack passion for anything. They good in absorbing information but not at creativity.

  • Neo

    All this does is change the rules so you can’t study to game the system.

    I fully expect to see an uptick in the use of methylphenidates like Ritalin and Adderall.
    (Better Living Through Chemistry)

    But once, Bernie Sanders’ “free college” plan kicks in, we will all be in college for the rest of our lives, rendering the SAT test, working and paying taxes obsolete.

  • Donald Campbell

    I believe the term of art is ‘dumbed down’.
    Don’t worry about those difficult math puzzles, we’ll just get some H1-B visas from India. I mean, math is only good for STEM.
    Don’t worry about those sophisticated vocabulary issues, only someone that wants to eschew obfuscation would ever bother. Reading is much easier when you don’t understand all the words.

  • dogbert

    We are raising a generation of morons. Making the test easier may make them feel better, but it won’t make them any smarter. Until and unless we understand all the problems with education, beginning with parents and children’s home lives, and begin to address them, our kids will continue to be morons.

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