SAT Disambiguation – Real World Math Problems

Real world CB definitionSince the announced changes to the SAT in March 2014, College Board officials have been on the world tour of high schools and education conferences trying to wow educators with their shiny new toy, the 15th iteration of the SAT. They’ve published exhaustive treatises on the research and specifications behind the changes, hosted dozens of gatherings and yet have provided no real information for the students who will actually take the test. These kids have been left to decode marketing-speak extolling the virtues of a test “more aligned with school work” and “based on a foundation of research.” Newspapers have picked up on the College Board’s talking points and parroted them without providing clarification, further confusing families and adding to the anxiety surrounding an already fraught time. So this leaves little ole me with the herculean task of laying plain that which has been obfuscated. I’ve been trying to work through each of the “8 Key Changes” and translate them into laymen’s terms so that they are more easily digested. Previously, I analyzed “Founding Documents and the Great Global Conversation“. As with that analysis, here I’ll also seek to answer these three key questions:

  1. What does this really mean?
  2. What level of impact will this change have for test takers?
  3. Is this really a change or is it simply a redistribution of the same ole same?

So, let’s do this thing!

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The Perils of Calculator Permission

As the College Board gears up to launch the revised SAT in March of 2016, one of the changes coming is a seemingly minor revision of the rules for the Math sections. This revision will change the 20 year old policy that has allowed the indiscriminate the use of calculators on math sections and may have a huge impact on test-takers. The current SAT has 3 scored math sections and in each section test-takers are allowed to use a calculator, or not, as they see fit. The current test makes no distinction (either implicit or explicit) among the math sections about the necessity or appropriateness of calculator usage. Well Interestingly, when the revised SAT launches it will have 2 scored math sections and in one of the two sections calculator use will be forbidden. While the College Board seems to be soft-selling this as if it will be no major change, I’m not certain at all that the impact of this change in procedure won’t have a deleterious impact. Having worked with teens in test preparation for more than 20 years, this distinction has me worried about unintended consequences. What immediately pops to mind are the following questions:

  • Will the inclusion of a “calculator permitted” section translate to this calculator dependent generation as “calculator necessary”?
  • Will the mention of calculator permitted cause additional stress for students who do not have a calculator or cannot afford a “good” calculator?
  • Is the college board assuming that students will all be made aware of the fine distinction between permitted and necessary prior to taking the exam?
  • Will this seemingly small change to the SAT hurt scores of the most vulnerable populations?

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