Don’t Increase the Hype: The SAT is a’changing

Not too long ago the College Board hired David Coleman as the new president and his first few months can be summarized by the Wu Tang Clan  – “Kaboom, guess who stepped in the room!” In just a few short months, Coleman has kicked up enough dust to make notoriety seekers like  Lady Gaga and Madonna proud by speaking of the failures of the College Board and its programs (notably the SAT and AP).

“I have a problem with the SAT writing” – David Coleman, president of the College Board


After critical and somewhat cryptic public statements in the fall,  Coleman sent a letter to College Board members (which includes colleges, high schools, and other educational organizations) in February of this year declaring:

 “We will develop an assessment that mirrors the work that students will do in college so that they will practice the work they need to do to complete college. An improved SAT will strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills that evidence shows are most important to prepare students for the rigors of college and career.
– David Coleman

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With this one small statement he sent college counselors, parents, and the media into a proverbial tizzy. Media outlets rushed to interview everyone from students to admissions officers to get their take on the “changes to the SAT,” and this has in turn increased the hoopla surrounding what should have been a mildly interesting warning. Well, lucky for you, you have me as the voice of reason to help you cut through the hype with a few facts.  I want you all to calm down about the “changes,” and here are the reasons why:


Changes take years

Changes to major admissions tests generally take years from announcement to implementation. Not only did Coleman mention talking to various interested parties around the country before making specific recommendations which will take time, historically no change to a major admission test has been quick. The grid below shows the time between the first found news announcement of specific changes and the first administration of the test which reflects those changes:




First Administration

Elapsed Time (years)


Recentering, TSWE dropped, Antonyms dropped, Math tweaked

Jun 1990

Apr 1995



Writing added, Quantitative Comparison and Analogy removed

Jun 2002

Mar 2005



Optional Writing introduced


Feb 2005



New scoring scale, significant changes to Science and Reading

Jan 1989

Oct 1990



Paper to CAT


Oct 1997



Paper to CAT

Mar 1992

Nov 1993



Scoring scale

Dec 2009

Aug 2011



Integrated Reasoning

Jun 2010

Jun 2012



No specific changes have been announced

If the first reason isn’t enough, we should keep in mind that no actual changes have been announced to the SAT. Coleman has merely stated his opinion that the SAT is in need of changes, which include alignment with the Common Core Standards. An assessment will need to be done about the current test structure and possible areas of change, and those suggestions will need to make their way through the psychometricians (folks whose job is to design tests), lawyers, and policy makers before new specifications can be delivered to item (question) writers.


What should you do?

Given these major considerations, now is not the time for high school students to even begin thinking about changes to the SAT. If you are a parent or a high school counselor, the best thing you can do is make sure your students who are in 10th grade or lower are focused on building a strong academic and social profile based on their skills, interests and talents. Leave the speculating and worrying about what the next SAT will look like to the test prep people, who will be blogging and tweeting as soon as we know anything.


Good luck and good studying!

  • Mike McClenathan

    Always the voice of reason.

  • (646) 414-1586
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