Trying (Again) to Measure Student Knowledge

The SAT will be revised again to make it a better tool to measure classroom learning and student command of vocabulary in common use.The SAT college entrance exam is slated for another overhaul, amid a time when a rival test has stolen its market share and some universities have stopped requiring an admissions test altogether.

An incentive to take the SAT, as opposed to the rival ACT, could be fee waivers for applications to four colleges or universities.

The SAT has been criticized for reflecting the education of children from higher-income families, not what a student actually learns in the classroom. There also has been strong reaction to test cramming that boosts scores, but may not reflect actual learning from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The redesign, the second this century, will make the written essay optional, drop vocabulary words not in common use and focus the math section more on critical thinking and problem solving. And it will once again be possible to achieve a perfect 1600 score, according to SAT officials.

SAT plans to post its own website with tutorials to help students prepare for the test and will stop deducting points for wrong answers on multiple choice questions, which encourages students to leave some questions blank rather than go with their best guess.

The redesigned test will take note of the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted all but a handful of states and express expectations of what students should know in math and English.

The test, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, was modified as recently as 2005, with the addition of a writing section that included an essay. In the new plan, which will be instituted in 2016, the essay is made optional and the time to write is doubled from 25 to 50 minutes. The hope is the longer time will reveal more about a student's writing ability as they are given information to analyze, then explain how the author marshaled his or her arguments.

The critical reading section will merge with multiple-choice writing questions, with analysis of passages in science, history and social studies expanded. This section will include passages from documents critical to the nation's political and social life, including texts from Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. The math section will focus on data analysis, problem solving and algebra. Calculators, which are allowed now, may be barred from some sections to measure "math fluency."

One member of the College Board advisory panel says the SAT changes are intended to "reward students who take high school seriously, who are real readers, who write well." When it comes to the vocabulary section of the test, that boils down to keeping words such as "egalitarian," but dropping words such as "phlegmatic."