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Anticipating Changes in the SAT: Will It Be Better for Students?

  • Cornish Elementary School students, from left, Kaitlyn Merrihew, Kylee Peck, Charlie Cloud, Chloe Thompson and Aby Panther rehearse a scene from "Alice In Wonderland" at the school on March, 14, 2014. The musical will be preformed on May, 16 - 17 at the school. Around 40 students are participating. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Cornish Elementary School students, from left, Kaitlyn Merrihew, Kylee Peck, Charlie Cloud, Chloe Thompson and Aby Panther rehearse a scene from "Alice In Wonderland" at the school on March, 14, 2014. The musical will be preformed on May, 16 - 17 at the school. Around 40 students are participating.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

  • At the Cornish Elementary School in Cornish, N.H., on March, 14, 2014. students go through warm-ups before starting their play rehersal. From left are Olivia Jameson, Lily Barber and Elijah Putnam.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    At the Cornish Elementary School in Cornish, N.H., on March, 14, 2014. students go through warm-ups before starting their play rehersal. From left are Olivia Jameson, Lily Barber and Elijah Putnam.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

  • Cornish Elementary School students, from left, Kaitlyn Merrihew, Kylee Peck, Charlie Cloud, Chloe Thompson and Aby Panther rehearse a scene from "Alice In Wonderland" at the school on March, 14, 2014. The musical will be preformed on May, 16 - 17 at the school. Around 40 students are participating. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • At the Cornish Elementary School in Cornish, N.H., on March, 14, 2014. students go through warm-ups before starting their play rehersal. From left are Olivia Jameson, Lily Barber and Elijah Putnam.<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

When the College Board announced changes to the SAT earlier this month, it was widely understood as an attempt to make the test more relevant to students who take it and more useful to admissions officers who weigh college applications.

But it was also a bid to make post-secondary education more available to low-income students. The College Board is offering free online test preparation tutorials and refocusing the test on classroom learning and away from 50-cent words and test-taking tricks.

The only problem, said Maria Laskaris, dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College, is this: The changes proposed probably won’t do much to bring more talented low-income kids to prestigious schools.

“The revisions to the test, I don’t think is necessarily going to drive students to apply,” Laskaris said. Rather, schools like Dartmouth need to conduct more outreach to identify talented students at an earlier age and ensure that those kids have the mentorship they need to aim high.

For decades, family income has been the primary predictor of success on the SAT. Wealthy parents eager to get their children into the best schools have been able to pay for expensive SAT prep courses. The planned changes to the test aren’t going to alter that, Laskaris said.

“I think that families that have the resources will really want to continue to support their children’s academic endeavors,” she said.

Founded in 1926, the SAT has been in a period of decline, particularly since 2005, when the College Board added an essay section that has proven itself less than useful in assessing a student’s writing ability. (“The actual essay included with the scores is not really helpful for us,” Laskaris said.) More students now take the ACT, a competing exam that’s shorter and has closer ties to classroom work.

A growing number of colleges and universities have dropped the SAT (which began life as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, but is now known only by its initials) from admissions criteria. About 800 schools no longer require it, including Bates College and Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, the University of Texas system, Wake Forest University and other highly regarded schools. A recent study shows that high school grades are more predictive than SAT scores of success in college.

Dartmouth officials talk regularly about the usefulness of the test, Laskaris said, and currently have no plans to stop requiring either the SAT or ACT.

“It certainly is a question I get asked a lot,” said Laskaris, who has been in admissions at Dartmouth since 1988. SAT scores are “a common piece of data across all of our applicants,” Laskaris said. Although Dartmouth will require it, the admissions office will “take it with a grain of salt.”

Under the proposed changes, the SAT drops the essay, making it optional. Starting in spring 2016, when today’s high school freshmen take the SAT, the test will center on vocabulary words more widely used in college and the working world and will no longer penalize wrong answers to multiple choice questions.

The state officials who pay attention to assessment in Vermont and New Hampshire declined to comment on the proposed SAT changes. Michael Hock, director of assessment at the Vermont Agency of Education, said he wasn’t yet conversant with the changes. Ken Relihan, the New Hampshire Department of Education’s liaison to the College Board, said Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather declined to permit him to comment. A message to Leather was not returned.

Attempts to reach high school guidance counselors on Friday were largely unsuccessful as counselors at several schools didn’t return messages.

“For me, I think the SAT is panicked,” said Pete Angus, a guidance counselor at Kearsarge Regional High School in Sutton, N.H. Angus said he would still counsel Kearsarge students to take the ACT, which has a science section and passages on the reading section that are grounded in the social and natural sciences. He called the ACT “a more student-friendly test.”

“At least for me, the ACT vocabulary has always been more realistic,” he said.

In an ideal world, colleges would just drop the testing requirement entirely, he said. “I applaud the schools that have said, we’re going to go SAT-type test optional,” Angus said.

The College Board hasn’t released exactly how the planned changes will be implemented, which leaves high school guidance counselors, college admissions officers, students and parents to assess only the broad strokes of the changes.

“The devil will be in the details,” Laskaris said. Next month, the College Board will release more about the test’s validity models, information about whether the test measures what it’s supposed to measure.

Student Achievement

A team from Mascoma Valley Regional High School won the 2014 LifeSmarts competition, a yearly contest of consumer knowledge. The winning team comprises students Garrett Albano, Keegan Caraway, Caleb Caraway and Alex Brueckner and was coached by Shawn Joyce. They bested five other high schools to earn the right to represent New Hampshire at the LifeSmarts national competition in Orlando next month.

The contest was created by the NH JumpStart Coalition, an arm of a national group dedicated to improving financial literacy and life skills among the American student body.

∎ Kyle Greene, of Newport, N.H., made the fall Dean’s List at Lasell College in Newton, Mass.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.