Standardized test taking is one of the most daunting components of the college application process. Many high schoolers will take the SAT, the longstanding king of standardized testing.
Since its initial roll out in 1926, the SAT has undergone multiple changes, even changing its name from the Scholastic Aptitude Test to the SAT Reasoning test to now just the SAT. In March of 2016, for the first time in a decade, the SAT will introduce a new version of the test. Many are optimistic about the SAT’s attempts to make the test more amicable to students, however the motives for changing the test may be suspect. The College Board, the company that owns the SAT, has redesigned the SAT to exploit a lucrative financial opportunity and to mimic its closest competitor, the increasingly more popular ACT; the changes to the SAT will cause the test to lose popularity.
The College Board, which owns and operates the SAT and the Advanced Placement (AP) Curriculum, is registered as a not-for-profit organization. The fees it collects are supposed to only cover some of the costs of operation. Yet, the College Board is really a profitable corporation that exploits test takers.
Loyola counselor Mr. Kelly Farland says that the College Board’s true purpose lies in the profit.
Farland said, “I’ve been in the education business for almost 25 years and it was pretty clear to me in my first couple years in the business, that college placement testing, SAT and ACT, is all about money.”
Farland noted that the income of the SAT extends beyond the fees it collects from students. For the SAT, the real money lies with the government. Farland said an influential impetus for the changes was the roll out of the new Common Core standards.
Farland said, “Government subsidies are a huge source of money and with the state standards around testing, there is a significant amount of money out there to measure how the Common Core is helping students. So what the SAT does is research and determine what is being taught and what is being learned.”
Indeed, the “not-for-profit” nature of the SAT appears to actually be rooted in making profit. In 2009, the College Board reported an astounding 8.6% profit. Of course, this profit came after the company paid its CEO a whopping $1.3 million salary; in 2011, 19 executives from the College Board were compensated in amounts exceeding $300,000 each, according to Bloomberg.com.
Yet, the College Board’s move to change its test comes not only out of an aggressive attempt to take advantage of a pot of gold from the government, but also as a defensive strategy to protect its market.
In 2012, for the first time, more students took the ACT than the SAT, raising alarm within the College Board. With the ACT continuing to out-test its declining competitor, the SAT sought to fight back, and redesigned the test to provide students with a more straightforward version of the longtime archetype of standardized test, the SAT–or in reality what will turn out to be a knockoff of the more popular ACT.
The motives for the changes become obvious when one compares the redesigned SAT to the ACT.
So as to emulate the ACT, the SAT consolidated its sections from ten to four. In addition, the SAT has eliminated the guessing penalty, which the ACT never had. The SAT ousted the five answer choice format, opting for the four answer choice format, which the ACT has had for decades. And like the ACT, the SAT will no longer require the essay portion.
Just as the format of the new SAT mirrors the ACT, some of the content resembles the ACT. The SAT will no longer use the vocabulary sentence completion questions and will use only in-context questions like the ACT. The grammar and writing components of the two tests will now be nearly identical with both tests having paragraph based grammar questions. Also, the essay will be based on three passages as opposed to its former argumentative nature. The content of the math has been narrowed to reflect only the first few years of high school math, just like the ACT.
So, with the SAT attempting to imitate the ACT, will the SAT successfully protect its market share?
The likelihood is no. Farland notes that much of the new SAT is unknown to many students and test prep companies, so it’s likely that for at least this year, the SAT will take a hit in its test-taker quantities.
In addition to the unfamiliarity, the new SAT test is likely to have other unpopular features as well. As noted previously, the test will no longer employ the vocabulary sentence completion questions. This change may be unpopular with many students who take numerous SAT classes, as the vocabulary section is often a coachable section. The math section will feature a no-calculator portion of questions, which will infuriate many students. Afterall, what student, given the choice, would refuse a calculator on a math test? Some of the changes are futile. The optional essay will still be essentially mandatory for any student seeking to be competitive in the college admissions process. Likewise, the cross-sectional scoring, where the SAT applies a student’s sectional score to a subject not tested in the SAT, such as Social Studies, is bound to cause confusion.
The Loyola Counseling Department advocates for the ACT, advising Loyola students of the Class of 2017 to avoid the new SAT.
Farland said, “Why would I waste my time going after a test I’m not certain about, if I’ve got a known entity in the ACT?”
The potential for the new SAT to backfire on the College Board will not by any means hurt its profit margin. Receiving compensation from states and colleges, along with selling test preparation manuals, shipping fees, processing fees, distribution and handling of required SAT Subject Tests, the PSAT, and AP tests will all add up to keep the College Board’s bottom line in the black.