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Dumbing Down The SAT Perfectly Sums Up The State Of American Education


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The Federalist

In a recent announcement, College Board expressed plans to make significant changes to the SAT that will go into effect in 2024. The test will be fully digital and shortened from roughly three hours to two. The reading passages will be made shorter and the math section will allow the use of a calculator throughout. In short, the test will be easier for both the testers and the person being tested.

According to College Board, the changes are meant to address concerns with access because of Covid and the lack of equity in the SAT, which some allege favors certain racial and socioeconomic groups. The complaint about equity has led a large number of colleges to stop using SAT scores as part of their admissions. Evidently, College Board is hoping that making the test easier and shorter will narrow these performance gaps and restore the usefulness of the SAT as an assessment for college readiness.


However, by working off false premises, College Board is coming to the wrong conclusion. All these proposed changes will simply lower the standard for everyone, hardly address problems with equity, and make the SAT all the more useless.

Any teacher or “data coach” who analyzes test results can attest to seeing this kind of logic play out in most state standardized tests. In the beginning, these tests were more challenging and designed to assess higher-level thinking skills. Over time, however, wave after wave of low scores and obvious performance gaps cause the test creators to lower standards dramatically. Finally, the test becomes a pointless hurdle for teachers and students to jump through, inviting calls for a new standardized test that actually says something.

Dumbing down a test is often subtle, but there are a few ways to spot it: make passages shorter with lower reading levels, simplify the math problems, allow a calculator, dictionary, and even provide some basic strategies for working through the test. Along with these changes, the scoring is often needlessly complicated with a series of formulas and algorithms replete with multipliers and random variables to supposedly indicate whether a student “meets” or “masters” expectations. Hence, standardized tests usually fill a whole sheet with a multitude of categories, bar graphs, tables, and color-coded labels to communicate a tester’s final score.:snip:

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