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Editorial: Getting a read on SAT changes

A college admission test like the SAT should be regularly updated to better reflect what students are learning in high schools and what’s expected academically in college.

Care, however, must be taken so that any changes do not make the test irrelevant as a tool in matching up colleges and students — or to enable educators and parents to compare past graduating classes with the present.

That means resisting changes where the actual outcome — whether intended or not — is to make the test easier.

The College Board, the organization behind the test, has said it is redesigning components of the SAT aimed at the skills and knowledge that “... matter most for college and career readiness.” Among the changes being mentioned are eliminating vocabulary that in some quarters is seen as esoteric; asking test takers to support answers with evidence; revamping the essay portion of the exam while making it optional; changing the scoring so that 1600 is once again the highest possible score; and no longer deducting points for getting an answer wrong.

All of these changes are supposed to be in place by 2016.

The College Board’s stated interest is to quit losing ground when it comes to the use of the SAT by students and colleges. Their standardized test not only faces competition from those schools that prefer the ACT but also feels an impact from those institutions that have emphasized other standards in selecting students.

It makes sense, therefore, that the folks behind the SAT want to make the test applicable for what students are learning as well as continuing its usefulness in admissions.

Making the essay portion optional takes demonstrating a student’s ability to communicate with the written word out of the equation, in our opinion weakening the overall value of the test. We would argue that those who contend that grading such written exams are too subjective are missing the point, in that such writing can and should be judged on the clarity of the writing and not the stance taken by the writer on the question.

While there is undoubtedly a lot of research and thought that has gone into the proposed changes, it still comes back to testing on the “three Rs” ... reading, writing and arithmetic. A student taking this kind of test should be able to demonstrate an ability to read (and therefore discuss the material) do math and write clearly to handle college courses — as well as what’s expected in the world outside academia.

If the SAT wants to make the grade in college admissions, that is what its focus should be.

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