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SAT to get student-friendly changes

Today’s high school freshmen will face a friendlier SAT when junior year rolls around.

Formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the Scholastic Assessment Test but now called the SAT Student Reasoning Test, the college admission exam that began in 1926 will get an overhaul in time for 2016 test takers.

The College Board, a nonprofit that produces the test, will “move beyond delivering assessments to delivering opportunity,” according to a March 5 press release that coincided with a national announcement.

The biggest changes: The essay section will be optional; vocabulary will consist of less obscure words and include more words used in college and career settings; and the test will return to a 1,600 point system.

Three big advantages: Test preparation will be free via the online Khan Academy; wrong answers will not be counted; and students can take the test electronically.

“I’m jealous,” said Tia Blais-Billie, the Tribe’s Miss Seminole 2014 and a senior at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. “As it seems more and more difficult to get into college for each generation in America, it’s good that they are matching the process to the students.”

Already accepted into her first choice, Rhode Island School of Design, Blais-Billie admitted envy that younger students face a friendlier and more relevant challenge – but she is also thrilled for them.

“I’m glad to see these changes being implemented, especially in regards to the socioeconomical correlation to standardized testing,” she said.

Veronica Ramsundar, the Tribe’s Higher Education program manager, said the redesign is long overdue.

“It’s an antiquated test and the changes are welcome. It’s indicative of changes that are taking place throughout the education system,” Ramsundar said.

According to the College Board website, changes came about after college admissions officers, school counselors, teachers and students asked that the company rework the test to increase opportunities.

Studies have long indicated that about 50 percent of students who take the SAT are not prepared for college and that lower-income students do not generally apply to colleges within their reach. Further, Native American, Hispanic and African American students are less likely to have taken college preparatory advanced placement classes.

“The test now takes away chances for students who might not get the scores but have other factors to offer,” Ramsundar said. “The new test will open the arena for students who want to get into top tier and choice colleges.”

College Board president David Coleman said it was time to admit that the SAT and the American College Testing (ACT) had become disconnected from what is taught in high school.

“Often the tests are mysterious and foster unproductive anxiety,” he said during a press conference in Austin, Texas. “Neither allows (students) to show their best work.”

Coleman said the tests could also reinforce privilege rather than merit because costs associated with college test preparatory classes are generally unaffordable, and therefore, out of reach for middle- to low-income students.

“It’s time to shake things up,” he said.

The SAT will no longer contain words that are not typically used outside the test, such as “sagacity” or “evanescent.” Students will no longer lose points for wrong answers but will instead be encouraged to select the best answers for each question.

But students should not confuse the promise of better opportunity with misconceptions that the test will be easier.

“It will test the student academically and outside the academic arena, broadening the net so that more students won’t get ruled out,” Ramsundar said. “It’s not dumbing it down. It is accommodating to many different students.”

The reading and writing sections will expand with requirements to cite specific information that supports answers. Source material will span disciplines including science, history and social studies. Students will be asked to analyze information in certain texts and extrapolate meanings from historical or global documents, such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech.

Mathematics questions now demand a vast knowledge of all topics but ask only one or two questions on each – calculators allowed. The 2016 test will cover focused math areas and include a no-calculator section.

For the optional essay test: If students choose to take the essay portion, they will be provided an essay passage prior to the test. At essay time, the student will be required to explain the author’s argument and support the author’s claims. The essay, which should resemble a college paper, will be scored separately. Some school districts and colleges will require it.

The Tribe has 47 high school juniors and 57 seniors eligible for the current SAT. High school sophomores and freshmen can get an advance look at the 2016 SAT test on April 16 through the College Board website, www.CollegeBoard.org.

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