New SAT still tough for minority and low-income students

SATThe SAT is getting another makeover and the College Board touts the test will be easier and more accessible to all students.

Unveiled last week, the standardized test will now contain more “relevant” vocabulary words, fewer math topics, an optional essay and an “evidence-based” reading and writing section. The Collage Board also promised that this test will give more minority and low-income students access to free online test prep resources and fee waivers.

But going back to a 1600-point scale, making an essay optional and offering more online classes won’t solve the access problems many of these students face when trying to take the test, some experts argue.

Click to hear their perspectives in an audio piece from Annenberg Radio News:

Robert Schaffer, public-education director for FairTest, says that the test’s changes are not that significant for disadvantaged students.

“It doesn’t assess low-income students better or more accurately,” said Schaffer. “Only looking at high school grades, a student’ profile and collected work over time is the only way to make a holistic judgment based on a comprehensive assessment of a student.”

Nancy Leopold also says that the SAT overhaul will only make a minor dent in the underlying issue — access.

“Research shows that this test has been demonstrated to systematically understate the abilities of low-income and minority students,” said Leopold, whose Maryland-based education group, CollegeTracks, has sent about 2,300 underserved students to college in the last 10 years.

What these students truly need, said Leopold, are educated, empathetic grown-ups who have gone through the complicated college admission process first-hand.

“The critical difference between the kids we serve and other kids is that to no fault of their own, they come from families with no college-going experience and guidance counselors have hundreds of students and can’t possibly spend the intense time needed to get all the details right,” said Leopold.

More than 60 percent of CollegeTracks’ students learned English as a second language, a demographic similar to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The SAT and ACT are made for students very familiar with English, even math problems are embedded in English,” said Leopold. “So for students who are not native speakers, they can’t possibly do as well as someone with the same knowledge and skills, but who has been speaking English from birth.”

And even though the vocabulary and reading sections will be better aligned with what students learn in school, Leopold and Schaffer argue that the test still will not truly measure students’ college readiness.

Colleges seem to be catching on. More than 800 colleges and universities allow the standardized test to be an optional piece of applications, and that number keeps growing.

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