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Local guidance counselors' reaction to planned changes in SAT positive

By Ann Baldelli

Publication: The Day

Published March 07. 2014 4:00AM   Updated March 07. 2014 8:52AM

As guidance counselors at high schools across the region begin to take stock in substantive changes to the 88-year-old SAT - the standardized test long used as a staple for college admission - first impressions are that the revisions better reflect what today's students are learning in classrooms.

The redesigned exam will have three sections: evidence-based reading and writing, math, and an optional essay.

The new test, which will be rolled out in 2016, will revert to the pre-2005 grading system, with 1600 being a perfect score. There will be a separate score for anyone who writes the essay.

Other revisions will be more commonplace vocabulary words and "rights-only scoring" where test-takers will not be penalized for wrong answers.

The vocabulary component will replace what Waterford High School Principal Andre Hauser called "my gosh" words with difficult but more practical language.

On the new test, words such as "synthesis" and "empirical," whose specific meaning depends on the context, will replace obscure words that the College Board said are "interesting and useful in certain instances" but "often lack broad utility in varied disciplines and contexts."

Local school administrators said the redesigned SAT appears to be more in line with new Common Core State Standards and more like the other college admission test - the ACT.

"It looks like the big thing is they are trying to connect the test more toward what kids are learning in the classroom and will be able to apply in the real world," said Tom Bousquet, director of guidance at Stonington High School.

Jeanne Elliot, who oversees guidance at Norwich Free Academy, said the evidence-based reading and writing component will be more in line with Common Core principles, but until schools receive sample tests, no one is sure.

Her gut reaction to the test revisions announced Wednesday by the College Board was positive.

"I think it will be good," she said.

School administrators seem to universally applaud the decision not to detract points from students who select a wrong answer on a multiple choice question. Students will only get credit if they answer correctly, but by deducting points some students have been fearful to complete the question if they have even the slightest doubt about an answer.

"This allows students to take chances and make an educated guess," Bousquet said.

This year's high school freshmen, the Class of 2017, will be the first students to take the new test in 2016. While some colleges and universities no longer require the standardized tests for admission, many do, and students still agonize over whether to take the SAT, ACT or both.

With the new test, the College Board will also introduce free, online test-preparation materials in 2015, giving students access to sophisticated, interactive software to practice and determine where their weaknesses are.

A major rap of the SAT and ACT has been that students from more affluent families have been able to pay for expensive pre-test classes that give them a leg up.

The College Board also said every income-eligible student who takes the SAT will directly receive four fee waivers to apply to college, removing a cost barrier faced especially by low- and middle-income students.

Also starting in 2016, students will have the option of taking the test in print or by computer.

Guidance departments at high schools across the region are awaiting the new sample tests to get a better idea of what will be in the new test, and for the most part they are optimistic.

"As far as I can see, the point of the changes is to cater more to what they are learning in school and to be able to apply their knowledge," said Bousquet. "It's more real-world applications, and that's really good."

a.baldelli@theday.com

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