By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — When major changes to the SAT college admissions test were recently announced, some college admissions officers didn’t give the news much thought.
That may have been because a) it was their busiest time of year, sifting through final college applications or b) because they have already done away with using the SAT scores in their application process.
For Ann McDermott, director of admissions at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., it was all of the above.
McDermott — who was in the final stages of selecting the school’s class of 2018 when College Board officials announced the change March 5 — told Catholic News Service she applauded the proposed test revisions. "Anything that evens out the playing field is good, which seems to be the attempt," she added.
The main changes to the college exam test include: making the essay optional; not penalizing students for wrong answers; and doing away with the test’s more obscure vocabulary words.
The revised tests will include passages from documents such as the Declaration of Independence or "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
College Board officials said the update — the first change to the test since 2005 — was needed to make the exam more representative of what high school students study and the skills they need to do well in college.
The new exam will be ready for students and their No. 2 pencils, or computers — another change — in 2016. It also will return to a 1,600-point scale.
McDermott noted that Holy Cross, which made reporting SAT scores optional for its applicants in 2006, said the school places a stronger emphasis on the four years of choices a student makes — in grades and extracurricular activities — than specific test scores.
One criticism of the SAT has been that students from wealthier families do better on the test because they can afford expensive test preparation classes.
In response, the College Board announced it will partner with the nonprofit Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT. It also will provide fee waivers for income-eligible students to apply for colleges.
In 2009, officials at Assumption College, also in Worcester, announced the school was no longer requiring prospective students to provide SAT or ACT standardized scores. In the announcement, the school’s vice president for enrollment management said that more than 800 colleges and universities had adopted similar test-optional admissions.
In 2007, Dominican-run Providence College in Rhode Island also made submission of college entrance exams scores optional for applicants.
Christopher Lydon, the school’s associate vice president for admission and enrollment planning, told CNS at the time that Providence wanted to return to its original mission of making college a viable option for a new generation of immigrants. Lower-income students, he said, often cannot afford the hours of SAT prep classes that their peers can take to get higher scores.
The school’s policy change didn’t hurt application numbers either. In the first year it dropped the SAT requirement, 1,000 more students applied.
Alyssa McCloud, vice president of enrollment management at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., got a preview of the upcoming SAT changes during a webinar for college officials a few hours before the public announcement was made.
She told The Associated Press that the test’s optional essay portion should help decrease some students’ anxiety about the test.
Seton Hall, run by the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., is one of many U.S. colleges that doesn’t use the SAT essay score in its admission decisions.
"Overall, I think the changes are very positive," she said.
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