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College Board offers a few glimpses into its redesigned SAT

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The College Board on Wednesday released sample questions and other materials for a redesigned SAT, promising a test that is grounded in students' real-world experiences and more focused on knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and careers.

Scheduled to be unveiled in 2016, the revamp is being touted as a major redirection for the 88-year-old exam. Officials say it will differ from other admissions tests by requiring students to do much more analysis, such as citing examples and other evidence and using graphics to support answers in the Reading and Writing and Language portions of the test.

The test also is intended not only to predict college success but also to pinpoint where students are falling behind in college readiness, officials said.

"This test will be more open and clear than any in our history," Cynthia B. Schmeiser, chief of assessment for the College Board, said during a media briefing. "It is more of an achievement test, anchored in what is important and needed for kids to be ready and succeed in college. The process used to define what is being measured is radically different than what we've used in the past and what is used in other tests."

The SAT is taken by about 1.7 million students annually but has been losing ground to the rival ACT, which is gaining nationwide acceptance after being more prevalent historically in the Midwest and the South. Many education experts view the ACT as more of an achievement exam, one in which students are less likely to be helped by coaching.

The focus on extended problem-solving and requiring students to explain their reasoning as a part of answering questions will set the SAT apart, Schmeiser said.

In a major change, the essay will be optional — although some colleges may still require it — and will be scored separately.

In an example of a Writing and Language question, students are asked to choose a related word that is most relevant to one underlined in a passage about painter Dong Kingman.

...As Kingman developed as a painter, his works were often compared to paintings by Chinese landscape artists dating back to CE 960, a time when a strong tradition of landscape painting emerged in Chinese art. Kingman, however, vacated from that tradition in a number of ways, most notably in that he chose to focus not on natural landscapes, such as mountains and rivers, but on cities....

A) no change

B) evacuated

C) departed

D) retired

The College Board identifies the best answer as C.

A longer passage in the test would contain additional questions to gauge students' understanding of nuance and context.

In the new exam, math questions are to be more narrowly focused on problem solving, data analysis and algebra.

An example:

When a scientist dives in salt water to a depth of 9 feet below the surface, the pressure due to the atmosphere and surrounding water is 18.7 pounds per square inch. As the scientist descends, the pressure increases linearly. At a depth of 14 feet, the pressure is 20.9 pounds per square inch. If the pressure increases at a constant rate as the scientist's depth below the surface increases, which of the following linear models best describes the pressure p in pounds per square inch at a depth of d feet below the surface?

A)p=0.44d+0.77

B)p=0.44d+14.74

C)p=2.2d-1.1

D)p=2.2d-9.9

The correct answer is B: Students would be expected to figure out that the pressure increases 2.2 pounds per square inch every 5 feet.

Many passages in the exam will be culled from significant works in American history or science, such as Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in which students might be tested on the varying uses of the word "dedicate."

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

"...It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work for which they who have fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.."

College Board officials stressed that the examples are drafts and that the materials will undergo extensive review and field testing before final questions are set.

Many of the changes are long overdue, said Carol Jago, associate director of the California Reading and Literature Project at UCLA, who singled out the changes in writing as an example.

"What they are asking students to do is rhetorical analysis of a reading, and this is a really important skill for a student, the kind of skill most college writing classes teach students to do," said Jago, who serves on an English advisory committee for the College Board.

Other educators, however, said they had yet to see much evidence that the SAT would change dramatically from its current form.

"I'm not exactly sure yet what they intend to accomplish from any redesign," said Michael Brown, dean of extension at UC Santa Barbara. "What does the nation need these tests to show? What are the needs for education reform and democratizing education, for reducing the test score gaps and promoting achievement more broadly? That's what needs to be looked at."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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