SAT changes but students still suffer

The College Board, known for its Advanced Placement tests and SAT exam, will implement major changes to the SAT in 2016.

northfelt_satThe changes include less esoteric vocabulary, more straightforward math questions and a passage from "one of the nation’s 'founding documents,' such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights," The New York Times reported.

But what do these changes mean? Why now?



The College Board is a relic in our time and is merely trying to catch up to the more "modern" ACT. As of last year, 1,666,017 students took the ACT and 1,664,479 took the SAT, according to The New York Times. This was the first time that more people took the ACT, and the SAT is scared. Founded in 1900, the College Board is a nonprofit company that apparently gets rich on nearly 7 million students who College Board "helps" get into college. With fewer people taking its test as a share of all test takers, College Board is running headlong into preserving its stance as a juggernaut in the testing industry.

"The College Board is more interested in marketing and selling things than it is in its primary responsibility, promoting equity and educational opportunity," said Ted O'Neill, former University of Chicago Dean of Admissions, to Bloomberg News.

This testing industrial complex changes its test and is hailed as making changes that benefit students. In reality, the company turned from helping prove students are ready for college to an organization that charged about $86 when I took my Advanced Placement tests. For this year's SAT, it will run you about $51.

Where does this money go? Certainly to design and administer the test, but it seems a bit outrageous to charge not only the $51 dollars to take it but additionally charge the students with the preparation, anxiety and countless hours worrying about what might confront them when they sit down in a lukewarm room for 3 hours and 50 minutes.

There are entire industries in the U.S. that prepare students to take this test. It's marketed as a huge "investment" in a student's life. This investment, however, may cost more than it's worth.

This stealthy increase in prices and commodification of learning mimics the explosion in fees, tuition and neo-liberal corporatization at our colleges.

Without an SAT score, it's impossible to get into a college. Even if your college doesn't require it, there's a crushing social norm that everyone takes an SAT before they go to college. This test reinforces the idea of American competitiveness. Without a yardstick to measure everyone against their peers, how would we know who's the smartest?

We don't need to know. We should de-emphasize the testing and the anxiety that comes with it. Without the marketing or the huge amount of lobbying on the state level for standardized testing, students may be able to concentrate on what matters — critical thinking and creative solutions to today's problems.

These skills are not able to be tested and quantified, leaving many colleges to just take the scores as a truthful representation of a student's merit. That's a failure on the collegiate racket into which we pay because we're required to do it.

At the end of the day, it's important to realize that while we're sold a bill of goods, it's our choice as to whether or not we want to buy it. It's tremendously important to question the system into which you're paying.

After all, it may not have your interests at heart when convincing you to go ahead and buy that $51 ticket to the American Dream.

Reach the columnist at or follow him on Twitter @peternorthfelt

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