College Board Chief Promises Changes to Common Core-Aligned SAT

Published November 20, 2016

The creators of the SAT, America’s oldest college-entrance exam, say they will remove unnecessary words from the test’s math section and cut back on the recycling of exams.

The College Board, the company that makes the SAT, has redesigned the exam to align it with the Common Core State Standards, a set of national standards dictating what students should know at the end of each grade level. Students first took the new test in March 2016.

A Reuters investigation reported in September the College Board ignored research showing its wordy math problems “could harm students who do not speak English as a native language.”

David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board and an architect of Common Core, responded to the Reuters report by saying during a college conference in September, “We are going to do everything we can to further simplify the mathematics section. Using superfluous words is superfluous. Every extra word should go. Complex, distracting situations should go.”

The Reuters investigative series also revealed “how test-preparation companies in Asia are systematically harvesting old questions and having their students practice on them. When those questions are reused on exam day, the clients enjoy a big advantage over students who haven’t seen the material before.”

Coleman said the College Board is “moving towards much greater first use and much more targeted reuse [of tests].”

Pressure from Common Core

Ashley Thorne, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, says the pressure to align SAT with Common Core has created these problems.

“The increase in math word problems was meant to test ‘students’ ability to apply math to solve problems in rich and varied contexts,’ reflecting Coleman’s efforts to align the SAT to the Common Core, which emphasizes ‘real-world contexts,'” Thorne said. “Common Core math is now famous for unnecessarily convoluting ordinary math problems. Eliminating ‘superfluous words’ in the SAT math word problems would be a positive step, though it should be taken in the interest of clarity for all test-takers rather than as a boon to international students.”

‘A History of Bad Revisions’

Thorne says SAT has been flawed for years.

“The SATs have a history of bad revisions, and the current changes should be seen in light of that history,” Thorne said. “Until 1995, the test was based on a single, unchanging standard. That year, the College Board re-normed the test to make average scores higher. This inflated scores and eliminated the ability to compare results to those of all the previous years.

“The newest version of the SAT drops the penalty for guessing, reduces the number of answer choices from five to four, and uses easier vocabulary,” said Thorne. “Again, these changes artificially inflate scores and make it harder to know which students have truly strong intelligence. It is good that Coleman is facing pressure on some of the test’s negative aspects, but all the others … remain to be addressed.”

Augmenting ‘the Sacred Portals’

Jeremy Tate, founder of the Classical Learning Institute, which has created a college entrance exam called the Classical Learning Test (CLT), says the public needs an alternative to Common-Core aligned tests.

“The CLT was developed in response to the failures of the SAT,” Tate said. “This is an important story because the SAT and ACT have been the sacred portals to college entry in the United States for multiple generations of Americans. After nearly 60 years of a duopoly, we hope to be the disruptor. Why now? SAT and ACT both made clear moves over the past five years to align with the Common Core standards, [and] millions of Americans have rejected the Common Core and the educational philosophy behind it.

“Originally, the SAT was designed as an aptitude test,” Tate said. “This means that it measured raw intellectual capacity. But the new test, according to Coleman, has removed every last trace of an aptitude test from this assessment. If it is not an aptitude test, then what is it? It is simply an assessment of Common Core mastery. For students coming from a traditionally oriented educational curriculum, such as a classical Christian curriculum, the SAT is increasingly becoming irrelevant.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.


Robert G. Holland, “Meet the CLT, a Test Wholly Unlike SAT or Common Core,” July 18, 2016: