Politics & Policy

SAT, Common Core Form Seamless Tissue of Mediocrity

The new SAT was made to test what the Common Core teaches.

The major revamp of the SAT that was announced this week puts the widely used college assessment test closely in line with the controversial Common Core standards being implemented at public schools around the country.

Prior to becoming president of the College Board in 2012, David Coleman ran Student Achievement Partners, which played a major role in shaping the Common Core curriculum. Coleman played a key role in developing Common Core, and he has been public about his goal of bringing that experience to the College Board, a New York-based association of nearly 6,000 schools that administers the SAT and other standardized tests.

Coleman announced in 2012 that one of his top priorities was to make the SAT reflect the new Common Core standards. By aligning the Common Core and SAT, Coleman hopes to battle “inequalities of opportunities” and to minimize the value of expensive test preparation. But the attempt to align what is for most college-bound high schoolers a make-or-break test with the widely deplored Common Core standards preceded Coleman’s tenure.

As early as 2010, the College Board stressed how the Common Core curriculum taught to the SAT. “All of the knowledge and skills measured by . . . SAT are represented in the Common Core,” the College Board’s “Common Core State Standards Alignment” report noted. “The College Board has been a strong advocate for and played an active role in the development of the Common Core State Standards.”

The recently announced changes to the SAT return the test to its former 1,600-point scale, eliminate the vocabulary section, remove the penalty for incorrect answers, and scrap the essay. Each of these changes, and others, were made with Common Core in mind. The College Board even released a side-by-side comparison of how the redesigned SAT standards relate to Common Cord standards.

For example, while the previous SAT vocabulary section focused on “obscure” words, according to the comparison, the new SAT will focus on “words that are widely used in college and career,” just as the Common Core hopes to acquire vocabulary skills “at the college and career readiness level.”

Similarly, the new SAT math section explicitly drops topics, focusing on those that “contribute to student readiness for college and career training.” Common Core likewise changed math to “cover fewer topics in greater depth . . . in order to be college and career ready.”

While the idea of aligning high school curriculum with a major aptitude test may be welcomed in theory, the new SAT has been critiqued as merely a dumbed-down version of the old one — dropping standards that proved difficult for many students — and Common Core has also faced criticism for dropping many subjects as well as for being unnecessarily confusing.

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.


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