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The most widely used measure of a student's readiness for college is getting a makeover. The College Board is changing the SAT. It's the second major revision of the test in nine years.
NPR's Claudio Sanchez joins us now to tell us what the new SAT might look like. And, Claudio, what are the biggest changes proposed here?
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Well, here's what College Board president David Coleman cited as the most obvious change.
DAVID COLEMAN: We will return to the 1600 scale for the overall score.
SANCHEZ: The essay section, of course, was introduced in 2005, and will now be optional. And then Coleman said this...
COLEMAN: Perhaps the most important change for students in the scoring is the College Board will remove the penalty for wrong answers.
SANCHEZ: These two changes alone, Melissa, Coleman said should make test-takers breath easier.
BLOCK: OK, so they're going back to the old scoring system. That got some applause there. There won't be punishment for wrong answers. And there's also a new effort to reward students. What's that about?
SANCHEZ: Well, Coleman said that the current SAT does not reward students for being factual. So the new SAT will require test-takers to provide evidence in support of an argument or be able to cite how an author uses evidence to make an argument, thus discouraging students from simply making up facts to argue their point.
Coleman said students will have to master vocabulary that's relevant and useful. Today's students are terrified by the words that they may not know on the SAT. And the new SAT will promote vocabulary by promoting more reading. So in every SAT students will encounter also a historical document, rooted in what Mr. Coleman called America's founding principles.
BLOCK: OK, now what about the math side? What's changing there?
SANCHEZ: The math section changes less so. The new SAT will focus on three things: problem and data analysis, algebra, and what he called a real world math related to science, technology, engineering and math or what is often referred to as STEM. These skills, Coleman said, are the hallmark of a college-ready student.
And finally, Coleman announced that the College Board will partner with Khan Academy to provide free online test preparation to all test-takers. These changes will be in place in about two years from now beginning in the spring 2016.
BLOCK: And, Claudio, what's behind the timing here? Why is the College Board making these changes to the SAT now?
SANCHEZ: Well, in talking to many experts about all this, many view this as an attempt to tie the SAT's math, reading and writing tests to the Common Core Standards that David Coleman, in fact, helped write before he became president of the College Board.
SANCHEZ: And, you know, 45 states have adopted the Common Core, which will help guide the curriculum in high schools, especially, what schools actually teach. But by aligning the SAT to a Common Core, the College Board can claim that the SAT is a more accurate assessment of students' skills, and therefore a more reliable predictor of how students will do in college; a key consideration in the college admissions process.
Critics of the SAT say these changes are nothing more than a marketing ploy for a couple of reasons. First, more and more colleges are questioning the value of the SAT. Colleges are relying less and less on the SAT test scores, and more on other things like grade point averages. Many colleges are making it optional. So the other widely used admissions exam, the ACT is also a threat to the SAT because it's now got a larger market share than the SAT does.
BLOCK: OK, NPR's Claudio Sanchez. Claudio, thanks.
SANCHEZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.