Don't be fooled by the new SAT 

Recently, the College Board announced that it was making big changes to the SAT exam. The biggest changes include returning to a 1,600-point scale from the current 2,400 scale, making the essay portion optional and changing the kind of words tested on the exam. Not to worry. The test will be as horrible as it ever has been, and will still discriminate against students on the basis of race and class.

These changes will have absolutely no impact on the SAT’s role in college admissions. This is because the SAT is a normative test. Normative means that the tests are graded on a curve. An average score will still be an average score, regardless of scale.

So the hoopla about going from 2,400 back to 1,600 is duplicitous. The curve remains unaffected. Besides, the College Board says it will make the scale change only by making the essay portion optional, meaning you can still try to earn 2,400 points if you take the essay.

Can you imagine applying to a top college and skipping the essay portion of the test that everyone else will be taking? That would be like saying, “Take me — I can’t write!”

The vocabulary changes seem irrelevant, too. According to an article in The New York Times, instead of using words like “depreciatory,” words like “empirical” will appear instead. That’s just great, unless you know the meaning of “depreciatory” and not the meaning of “empirical.”

Finally, it seems that the College Board is announcing these changes merely to get free press. The board could use some. It is no secret that the board has lost major market share to its rival, the ACT. The Washington Post reported that ACT test takers outnumbered SAT test takers for the first time in 2012. It is hard not to believe that these superficial changes to the SAT amount to little more than disingenuous marketing.

The real problem with the SAT is that the biggest predictor of its scores is family income. Students with higher incomes tend to have higher scores. Therefore, the SAT is not a metric of meritocracy, but a measure of wealth.

Consequently, the SAT acts as a major brake on social mobility. As long as top schools use SAT scores to determine admission, middle-class and minority students will be discriminated against. The SAT has become an insidious tool of the 1 percent. We should focus on that, and not on the College Board’s publicity stunts.

Isaac Richard is the director of the San Francisco College Center.

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