Education Week - January 6, 2016 - (Page 7)
As New SAT Looms, Anxious Students Ramp Up Testing
Some plan on taking
three different tests
By Caralee J. Adams
With the rollout of the redesigned
SAT coming in March, this year's
high school juniors face a dilemma:
Should they take the current SAT,
the new SAT, the ACT-or some
combination of all three?
Officials from ACT Inc. and the
College Board, which owns the SAT,
say they don't know how many students take both college-entrance
exams but each reported that participation is up this fall.
A survey of parents of college applicants by Kaplan Test Prep released
in November shows that 43 percent
say their child plans to take both the
SAT and ACT-often to see which
test results in a higher score.
Deciding which exam to take has
added a layer of pressure to what
some say is an increasingly stressful college search process.
"It's not been an easy choice at
all," said Sarina Hahn, a junior
at Northampton High School in
Northampton, Mass. Feeling that
there were too many unknowns with
the new SAT, Hahn decided to squeeze
her test prep into the fall to take the
more-familiar SAT in December and
January before it is revamped.
"I'm hoping from the two runs I'll
get a score that is good enough. If
not, I'll go to the ACT, but I'll cross
that bridge when I come to it," said
Hahn. "There is so much out there
regarding the old SAT and tutors
who know how to approach that test
that it just seemed like it made the
Each year, nearly 4 million students
take at least one of the two college-entrance exams. Some expect the ACT,
which is now the more popular exam,
will benefit this year as students like
Hahn wait to see how the first administration of the new SAT goes.
"A number of school districts are
saying to their juniors: 'Just take the
ACT,' " said Phil Trout, the president
of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "Kids
have the freedom to choose and I
know of schools where counselors are
advising students to let someone else
be the guinea pig for the new SAT."
The new SAT is designed to be
more straightforward and students
should feel confident taking it because it focuses on the skills that
are most important for college success, said Stacy Caldwell, the College Board's vice president for college-readiness assessments.
"This is exactly the work that [students] have been working on in high
school," she said. "We've long said the
best preparation for the SAT is taking the right rigorous courses. With
the redesign, that's even more true."
Among the changes coming to the
*The new composite score will
range from 400-1600 rather than
*There will be no penalties for
wrong answers and students will
have four answer choices instead of
*The essay section will be optional.
*Vocabulary will be more familiar,
*Calculators will be permitted only
in some sections.
The new Preliminary SAT/National
Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, offered for the first time in October, was
intended to be a preview of the new
SAT. Scores and individualized feedback will be sent to students through
a new interactive portal that can be
used in their free online SAT test
prep, added Caldwell.
To ramp up outreach, the New
York City-based nonprofit has
hosted webinars for counselors,
presented at conferences, and distributed materials to districts and
students. While awareness of the
changes dropped off after the initial
Pacific Rim Charter High School
in Boston recently switched to preparing students to take the ACT,
although the school does not administer either test.
"When they look at the [ACT]
questions, they seem more straightforward to them," said Doreen
Kelly-Carney, a college counselor, of
her students at Pacific Rim, which
is mostly low-income and includes
many first-generation college students. A few students will take
the SAT and ACT, but the school
dropped the PSAT this year and
counselors are not pushing kids to
take more tests than necessary.
This year's juniors are in a unique
position to have three exam choices,
so Jeff Fuller, the director of student recruitment at the University
of Houston suggests students sit for
each of them to see where they score
"After the spring, it won't be an
likely take more than one exam.
Bigham tries to provide some perspective: "We try to soft-pedal the
anxiety of it."
Juniors face a choice not only
about which exam to take, but how
many times. The ACT and the College Board report that about half
of students take the same exam
twice-typically once in their junior
year and once as seniors.
Preparing for New Exams
The ACT has long been regarded
as a curriculum-based test compared to the SAT, which is seen
as an aptitude or reasoning test.
Many expect the redesign will
make the two tests more similar,
and the College Board was driven,
in part, by a hope of regaining market share.
While the new SAT aims to level
the playing field and be less coach-
I'm hoping from the two runs, I'll get a score that is good enough.
If not, I'll go to the ACT, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."
11th grader, Northampton (Mass.) High School
announcement two years ago, the
level of interest has picked up again,
Just what college-entrance exam
students take-and the advice offered to them-may depend on
whom they ask, and where they live.
This spring, 19 states will offer the
ACT for free, and six states and the
District of Columbia will give the
SAT free to all juniors-driving college-entrance exam patterns by location.(See related story on page 16.)
Take Missouri, where the ACT
will be administered to all juniors
in April. Sarah Dix, a school counselor at Hillsboro High School in
Hillsboro, Mo., said she anticipates
only a few juniors will travel 50
miles to the closest SAT test site
this year. There has not been a big
push to tell students here about the
new SAT and test prep for the ACT
will be offered during the school
day, said Dix.
For years, Michigan has primarily
been an ACT state, but this spring the
SAT will be given free statewide. After
years of teachers folding ACT test
prep-type questions into high school
classes, many juniors are nervous
about the switch, said Erica Empie,
a school counselor at Hartland High
School in Hartland, Mich. "Now all of
a sudden this is the year they would
be [taking the ACT] and everything is
changing for them," said Empie.
In this transition year, a lot of
Hartland students will choose to
take the ACT on their own, in addition to the SAT given for free at
their schools. "This year's juniors
are in an unfortunate situation,"
said Empie, adding that she believes the bulk of the educators were
caught off guard by the change.
After years of students primarily
taking the SAT, the Academy of the
option. So take advantage, and do it
now while it's available," said Fuller,
who is also a past president of the
NACAC. He advises students to
check with the universities where
they plan to apply to learn about institutional preferences for tests.
Officials at Marist College in
Poughkeepsie, N.Y., will accept
scores from the ACT or either version of the SAT.
"Some students will be more comfortable with the old SAT because
they will be able to talk to their
friends about the test, while others
will find the new test to their liking," said Kent Rinehart, the dean
of admissions. The 6,500-student
college is test optional and about 30
percent of applicants don't submit
"Students need to exhale and
relax a bit," said Rinehart, emphasizing that applicants' academic records are more important than test
scores. "Most colleges look at three
and a half years of work in high
school, not three and a half hours
on a Saturday morning."
able, students are still investing
time and money in test prep.
Since the College Board began
offering free online test preparation in a partnership with Khan
Academy in June, more than
660,000 users logged on to the site
and completed 15 million practice
items. "The focus of the test prep
is on core academic skills needed
to be successful on the SAT and in
high school and college," said the
College Board's Caldwell. "Rather
than it being about coaching tricks
or ways to beat the test, what it focuses on is building core academic
When parents at Hartland High
in Michigan ask Empie about test
prep for the new SAT, she steers
them to the Khan Academy website.
"We are pushing it hard," she said. "I
love that free price tag and that idea
that they take the PSAT score and
Coverage of the implementation of
college- and career-ready standards
is supported in part by a grant from
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Education Week retains sole editorial
control over the content of this coverage.
Visit the HIGH SCHOOL & BEYOND blog, which
tracks news and trends on this issue.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Write a letter
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'Epic Waste of Time'
Marie Bigham, a school counselor
at Isidore Newman School, an independent pre-K-12 school in New
Orleans, says advising students this
year has been "tricky" but she recommends they focus on one exam,
after taking some practice tests.
"I don't want students to feed the
beast by giving the College Board
or ACT any more money than is
necessary," she said. "For the parent who suggests a student needs
to take all three, I think that's an
epic waste of time."
Still, some students aiming for
the most-selective schools will
give more tailored work."
Kaplan Test Prep has adapted
its SAT program and officials say
there has been a significant increase in students taking the new
practice tests. Michael Boothroyd,
the executive director of college admissions programs for Kaplan, said
students can benefit from going
over the test ahead of time.
"Everything about the SAT is different. The test is unlike the others-in content, scoring, the calculator policy-and the PSAT has given
a taste of that," said Boothroyd. "You
can't go into this test cold. You need
to understand each section. You
need strong methods."
In September, ACT, Inc. made
subtle changes to its college-entrance exam-modifying the writing section and adding STEM,
career-readiness, and English/
language arts scores. It offers free
practice tests online, and in December, ACT, Inc. will introduce an
updated online prep service for a
fee, with waivers available for lowincome students.
"Once students take a look at the
ACT, their comfort level increases,"
said Paul Weeks, the senior vice
president of client relations for the
ACT. Still, Weeks says the best prep
for ACT is taking rigorous coursework in high school.
Along with the ACT and SAT
changes, the class of 2017 also faces
changes in the federal financial aid
application timetable as families
will be allowed to submit prior year
income-tax records. Fuller notes
this makes it even more important
for students to stay on top of deadlines and varying policies at the colleges they are considering.
Added Sarina of Northampton:
"It's definitely an interesting time
to be a junior. There is a lot of shifting going on."
Letters should be as brief as
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EDUCATION WEEK | January 6, 2016 | www.edweek.org | 7
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 6, 2016
Education Week - January 6, 2016
News in Brief
Wash. Ruling Could Inspire Charter Opponents Elsewhere
As New SAT Looms, Anxious Students Ramp Up Testing
Digital Directions: U.S. Ed-Tech Plan Calls Attention to ‘Digital-Use Divide’
Standards for Principals’ Bosses Sharpen Focus on Role
Blogs of the Week
High Stakes in Union-Fee Case Before Supreme Court
New K-12 Law Adds to Buzz as State Legislatures Set to Convene
Ed. Dept. Budget Sees Slight Boost In FY 2016 Deal
Blogs of the Week
Amanda VanDerHeyden, Matthew Burns, Rachel Brown, Mark R. Shinn, Stevan Kukic, Kim Gibbons, Ggeorge Batsche, & W. David Tilly: RTI Works (When It Is Implemented Correctly)
Ron Wolk: To Change Education, Change the Message
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Paul Herdman: As Feds Step Back, The First State Steps Up
Education Week - January 6, 2016