As an AP English teacher and a former standardized test coordinator, I have ample reason to complain about the College Board, the non-profit organization responsible for the SAT, the PSAT, and Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school. The most significant concern for teachers is that AP classes have a proscribed, limited curriculum because the class is focused on passing a single national exam. Teaching to a single test limits the content and skills teachers can emphasize. As for being a test coordinator, don’t even get me started on the days of my life spent on hold with College Board’s customer service line.
Those concerns, however, pale in comparison to my disappointment in College Board’s decision to change the format of the SAT and PSAT tests and to switch to an all-digital test. When the state of Colorado’s contract with College Board comes up for renewal, the state should immediately cut ties with the company and switch back to the ACT for state testing. The new SAT and PSAT tests can no longer be trusted as an accurate measure of a student’s reading ability and potential to understand complex materials at the college level. In fact, the new SAT can no longer be considered a reading test at all.
The new test format is inherently easier, but also inauthentic as a legitimate measure of literacy. According to information provided by College Board, the new digital format is shorter than the paper version. The SAT is now two hours, rather than three, and it has 56 fewer questions. Simply based on averages, fewer questions decreases the margin of error. Students can get fewer questions wrong and still receive high scores – except of course for College Board adjusting the difficulty level. That’s because the test is now adaptive – meaning as students shift sections, they receive more or less challenging questions based on their success in the first module.
However, the most egregious change is in the question format. In the past, students would read long passages and answer ten or so comprehensive questions about each passage to reflect their full understanding of broad ideas and individual language choices. The new test, however, has no long passages. Students read short pieces of just a couple sentences or so, and they answer a single question. As a veteran English teacher and writer, I do not understand how College Board can in any way claim to colleges and universities that their test measures a student’s ability to read and comprehend complex materials. Because they are no longer reading passages. And, I haven’t even delved into changes to the math test which eliminated the “no calculator” section.
Forbes magazine recently spoke with Shaan Patel, MD, MBA, and founder/CEO of Prep Expert SAT & ACT Preparation, about the changes to the test. In no uncertain terms, Patel explained that College Board is simply a business, and changes are designed to increase profits. According to Patel, “The College Board purposely makes the SAT easier with every redesign because it wants more students to take the SAT.” The AP exams, which are used to grant college credit, are also getting easier at an alarming rate. For example, according to released data, the pass rate for the AP English Literature exam was 43% in 2021. Yet, just one year later, the pass rate in 2022 had risen to an astonishing 77%.
Clearly, the College Board is not really an educational services company. It’s simply a major international business focused on making a lot of money. It’s mystifying that the company is granted non-profit status, especially when CEO David Coleman reportedly had a $2.5 million salary in 2020. And profits continue to grow. The company has radically decreased its costs by eliminating paper tests, yet they still charge the same price. With no paper or transportation costs, they can eliminate huge numbers of workers. Heck, at this point, the College Board could be run by three tech bros in their dorm room or parents’ basement. And, honestly, with these changes that feels like the case.
While there will always be legitimate concerns about the predictive factors of any standardized test, the ACT is certainly now more authentic than the SAT. Thus, states, school districts, and universities should reconsider the faith they place in SAT tests. Now, if we could just convince the ACT to extend the time for its reading tests.
Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org