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USD 383 officials weigh in on SAT changes

By Bethany Knipp

Some USD 383 officials say planned changes to the SAT college entrance exam seem to be a step in the right direction.

The College Board announced its plans to alter major aspects of the test last week.

“With what limited information that has come out, it all looks positive,” Manhattan High School Principal Greg Hoyt said. “Of course, the proof will be in the pudding.”

The changes, which will be applied in spring 2016, include an optional essay, the elimination of the test’s vocabulary section, a top score being 1600 rather than 2400 and no penalties for wrong answers, making it more like the ACT. The essay also will be scored separately.

The changes are meant to take a more relevant approach to what students are actually studying in high school and what they will study in college.

Overall, the test will be designed to be evidence based. Students will have to justify their answers with what they’ve read so they can employ some critical thinking, rather than filling in bubble answers.

“I think that evidenced-based reading and writing is huge because it’s asking kids to read and study,” said Carol Adams, USD 383 director of teaching and learning.

Hoyt said at Manhattan High, less than 10 percent, or about 30 to 50 students, take the SAT.

The number is low given that the ACT exam is accepted at most colleges across the county.

But it is very selective schools that are more likely to want SAT scores, possibly along with ACT scores.

Adams said she sees the changes as a positive thing.

“I don’t see anything alarming,” she said. “They make me smile.”

She said the fill-in-the-bubble tricks are not an accurate measure of what a student really knows.

Adams and Hoyt said they’re wondering about the specifics of the changes, which will be released by the College Board in April.

Adams said she wants to know whether the essays will be scored by people or electronically.

The separately scored optional essay would be taken by students who want to get into colleges or programs of study that require it, or those who feel confident in their writing skills, Adams said.

Having the separate score would mean the overall test score wouldn’t be affected. 

Adams said she’s not surprised by the changes because the assessment climate around the country is focused on core standards.

She said it’s only logical that the College Board would want to re-examine how it is testing students because of that.

“If they’re not in alignment, we’re going to be teaching something and testing something else,” Adams said. “When you stop and think about it, it just makes sense.”

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