The higher ed world is abuzz with talk about the College Board’s most recent overhaul of the SAT. The changes that have been announced contain some good news. For example, every exam will now include a reading passage from one of the nation’s founding documents or from important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Given the historical illiteracy of our generation, this is certainly reason to celebrate.
But many of the other changes coming to the SAT are cause for concern. As ACTA noted in our statement on the matter:
An announcement by the College Board that it will end the SAT’s longstanding focus on challenging vocabulary, eliminate the required writing test and water down the math standard suggests that the changes are designed to make students look prepared, when they aren’t.
Sadly, the College Board has a history of lowering standards in order to make students look more prepared than they really are. And we ought not to underestimate the harm this can cause. Harry Stille has documented the billions of dollars spent on under-prepared students who end up dropping out. This doesn’t just hurt the finances of institutions and taxpayers, it hurts the students who end up taking on massive debt but leave school without a degree.
Standardized tests are hardly perfect tools. But they are important ones. Ultimately, if we want to make sure every student gets the high quality education he or she deserves, then we need to stop lowering standards and start raising them.