Despite warnings, College Board redesigned SAT in way that may hurt neediest students
Part Six: Internal documents show the makers of the new SAT knew the test was overloaded with wordy math problems – a hurdle that could reinforce race and income disparities. The College Board went ahead with the exam anyway.
NEW YORK – In the days after the redesigned SAT college entrance exam was given for the first time in March, some test-takers headed to the popular website reddit to share a frustration.
They had trouble getting through the exam’s new mathematics sections. “I didn’t have nearly enough time to finish,” wrote a commenter who goes by MathM. “Other people I asked had similar impressions.”
The math itself wasn’t the problem, said Vicki Wood, who develops courses for PowerScore, a South Carolina-based test preparation company. The issue was the wordy setups that precede many of the questions.
“The math section is text heavy,” said Wood, a tutor who took the SAT in May. “And I ran out of time.”
The College Board, the maker of the exam, had reason to expect just such an outcome for many test-takers.
When it decided to redesign the SAT, the New York-based not-for-profit sought to build an exam with what it describes as more “real world” applications than past incarnations of the test. Students wouldn’t simply need to be good at algebra, for instance. The new SAT would require them to “solve problems in rich and varied contexts.”
But in evaluating that approach, the College Board’s own research turned up problems that troubled even the exam makers.
About half the test-takers were unable to finish the math sections on a prototype exam given in 2014, internal documents reviewed by Reuters show. The problem was especially pronounced among students that the College Board classified as low scorers on the old SAT.
A difference in completion rates between low scorers and high scorers is to be expected, but the gap on the math sections was much larger than the disparities in the reading and writing sections. The study Reuters reviewed didn’t address the demographics of that performance gap, but poor, black and Latino students have tended to score lower on the SAT than wealthy, white and Asian students.
In light of the results, officials concluded that the math sections should have far fewer long questions, documents show. But the College Board never made that adjustment and instead launched the new SAT with a large proportion of wordy questions, a Reuters analysis of new versions of the test shows.
The redesigned SAT is described in the College Board’s own test specifications as an “appropriate and fair assessment” to promote “equity and opportunity.” But some education and testing specialists say the text-heavy new math sections may be creating greater challenges for kids who perform well in math but poorly in reading, reinforcing race and income disparities.
Among those especially disadvantaged by the number of long word problems, they say, are recent immigrants and American citizens who aren’t native English speakers; international students; and test-takers whose dyslexia or other learning disabilities have gone undiagnosed.