March 6, 2016

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: The New SAT Won’t Work.

The College Board has set high expectations for the new test, which is supposed to track high school curricula more closely by scrapping sophisticated vocabulary, focusing more heavily on reading, and dispensing with difficult math puzzles. In his 2014 speech announcing the changes, and in a subsequent public relations campaign, College Board President David Coleman presented the reforms as a social justice cause. The new SAT would be less convoluted, more difficult for rich kids to cram for with expensive tutors, and level the playing field for minorities and low-income students. Coleman even brought the historian Robert Caro on the stage to read a passage from his book about Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty efforts—a not-so-subtle suggestion that changing the SAT would similarly expand opportunity for those at the bottom of the ladder.

It was not quite clear then how this was supposed to work (Can’t rich kids hire tutors for the new version of the test, too? If the tough questions are scrubbed from the test, won’t it lose its utility for colleges trying to assess applicants’ academic ability?) and it is still not clear today, on the eve of the new test’s debut. . . .

As we’ve written before, “We have the terms ‘privileged’ and ‘disadvantaged’ for a reason: Some people are born into more fortunate circumstances than others. Tinkering with the SAT won’t change this fundamental fact of life.” The College Board should do everything in its power to make the SAT as fair and predictive as possible. But it was probably a mistake—and a distraction from other, more important efforts—for the test-maker to create the expectation that its revamped exam would deal a major blow to socioeconomic inequality in America.

You want to reduce inequality? Make success less contingent on attending expensive institutions.

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