The SAT is going digital. Will this make the test fairer?

The College Board announced today that the SAT will go entirely digital, saying the change will make the test easier to take and administer, and better suited for today’s students.

The move comes as a growing number of colleges and universities have opted for the optional test during admissions, in part because the pandemic has made it harder for students to gather safely to take the test, and in some cases out of fear that standardized tests might prevent barriers. for certain types of students.

However, many critics of the test remain skeptical about the significance of the changes.

Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of college readiness assessments for the College Board, and others affiliated with the design argued on a call with reporters that the test now offers a “more accessible and less stressful experience.” for students and educators, a goal they say was “central” to the new changes.

Among the changes, exam length was reduced by one hour from three to two, with shorter passages on a wider range of topics and one question per reading section. Scores will also be delivered faster.

However, not everything has changed. In fact, the basic components seem to be much the same. The test will still be scored on a 1,600-point scale and it will still be administered at a school or testing center, the College Board said, so students won’t take it at home. The group conducted trials of an at-home version of the SAT early in the pandemic, but backed away from the idea as they said it would “require three hours of uninterrupted video quality internet for each student. , which cannot be guaranteed for everyone.

The College Board said it conducted a successful pilot in November of the digital version it opted for.

The College Board argues that the new changes will increase the number of options for schools regarding when and how to administer the exam. “As we go digital, we’re going to be able to give every student a unique version of the SAT,” Rodriguez pointed out. This increases exam security and gives schools more flexibility in when they offer the test, and increasingly, students take the exam during the school day and so the flexibility will keep the doors open to more students, she said.

changing landscape

Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, a nonprofit that advocates making testing optional, said in a statement today that the SAT’s move to digital is just a “repackaging” of the SAT. which does not seem to respond seriously to the criticisms of the test. validity or fairness.

“Transferring an unnecessary, biased, coachable, and poorly predictive multiple-choice exam that few schools currently require from paper-and-pencil delivery to an electronic format does not magically transform it into a more accurate, fair, or valid tool for assess college readiness,” Schaeffer wrote.

More than 1,800 colleges and universities now have voluntary testing admissions policies, up from 1,000 just before the pandemic, according to FairTest figures.

Others also expressed skepticism.

“The problem wasn’t that the SAT was in paper form…that wasn’t the problem at all,” tweeted longtime SAT tutor Jennifer Jessie. “That has never happened in the years that I have taught this test.”

Some admissions officers were also disappointed.

“It is myopic and deceitful to measure the small wins without measuring the enormous real and opportunity costs to society,” Jon Boeckenstedt, vice president of enrollment management at Oregon State University, wrote on Twitter. “For every first-generation and/or low-income and/or college student of color that the SAT has helped, it has almost certainly hurt hundreds, if not thousands.”

The College Board, on the other hand, argues that the SAT is an “objective measure” of a student’s college readiness. Its leaders also say students will continue to take the test, even though it is optional. “When nearly every college took the optional test during the pandemic, millions of students still took the SAT,” College Board officials said in a statement this week. Students still want to take the test so they have the opportunity to submit scores if they pass, the group explains.

“In a world where testing is largely optional, the SAT is a lower-stakes test for college admissions. Submitting a score is optional for every type of college, and we want the SAT to be the best possible option for students,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “The SAT allows every student, regardless of high school, to be seen and to access opportunities that will shape their lives and careers.”

More fair?

Some observers, however, see benefits in the changes.

“The move to a digital test format is long overdue,” said Jerome Lucido, research professor at USC Rossier School of Education, in an email interview with EdSurge. Digital tests will be safer, he says, and the shorter format will also make the test “less taxing on the mind”.

However, how colleges use SAT scores in the decision-making process — and whether the shorter tests are valid — will determine whether the changes will bring more fairness, Lucido argues. The validity of the tests will be known as they are administered, he said.

To improve fairness, he said, colleges should not use “cutoff scores,” where student applications are not reviewed below a certain score level, and they should place scores in the context of a student’s educational opportunities. to treat.

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