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New Website for a New Test

College Board will offer new version of SAT for the first time next spring, and it is working with the popular and free Khan Academy to offer intensive online resources to help students prepare.

June 2, 2015
 

The College Board and Khan Academy are today announcing a new partnership offering free online test preparation resources for students looking to take a new version of the SAT next spring.

The free test preparation is being offered in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to give access to the resources to students who might need more support or access to the Internet or computers. The announcements are designed to help the College Board try to rebrand a test that some have criticized for not providing an accurate prediction of success in higher education.

The website features a series of diagnostic tests created by Khan that students take to determine their skill level in each section of the SAT, which can then direct them to different videos on the Khan site to go over certain topics or review fundamentals a student might have previously missed in school.

The service also takes in data from students’ PSAT and SAT scores and tailors the tools offered to teach skills students may have missed on the assessments and prepare them for the next round of testing.

David Coleman, CEO and president of College Board, said his organization is trying to ensure that students will not only be more prepared for taking the SAT but for college in general -- a purpose of the SAT that has become somewhat discounted in recent years.

The SAT has been on the defensive in recent years. Admissions officers at increasing numbers of colleges have leaned toward using high school grades when determining whether or not to admit an applicant, a criterion that is generally considered to be the best indicator of a student’s success in college. The ACT has also risen in popularity as an alternative to the SAT, although the SAT does remain relevant in many institutions’ admission decisions.

“Our aim is to level the college assessment practice field,” Coleman said in a presentation of the resources for members of the media.

Salman Khan, founder and executive director of Khan Academy, said members of his organization, which already provides hundreds of free videos on a number of academic topics on its website, had access to the new SAT design and were able to tailor the tools to best help students succeed while preparing for the test.

“The traditional preparation for something like this is often viewed as short-lived, but now we engage students at an earlier part of life to help prepare them for the SAT,” he said.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America partnership is the first of multiple connections College Board and Khan Academy hope to create. College counselors, principals and superintendents have all been sent information on the new SAT design and the test prep being offered, in the hopes of school districts promoting its use and incorporating it into the classroom.

The SAT redesign is planned to better align with what is being taught in middle and high schools across the country, especially in light of the new Common Core standards being incorporated into high school curricula.

Damon Williams, the senior vice president of program, training and youth development services at the Boys & Girls Clubs, said that a small number of the organization’s 4,100 locations have been part of a pilot program using the Khan Academy test prep, and that the program will be expanded this fall as part of a gradual rollout. Staff members of the Boys & Girls Clubs will eventually be trained as mentors for students, adding another layer of support for students who might not be able to access it elsewhere.

Partnerships with other community-based organizations are also being planned but have yet to be formally announced.

“We don’t believe that we are school part two, but we believe the out-of-school time and environment are critical to college development, to workforce development, to leadership development,” Williams said. “It’s highly relevant to what happens in schools including helping young people go on to college.”

Cindie Schmeiser, chief of assessment at College Board, said the redesign of the test was targeted to make sure not only that students who are interested in doing so get into college, but are also ready for postsecondary education once they're admitted.

She said the new tools in combination with the community partnerships will make sure students have a long relationships with Khan that will help them on both the test and in the classroom.

“There’s a lot of publicity and focus on test-optional institutions, but a majority of institutions do use the SAT in not only admission decisions but making decisions about what kinds of students are entering their institutions,” Schmeiser said.

She added that Khan will launch a program of personal coaches sometime in the fall, although that initiative is still in the planning stages.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing and a proponent for test-optional college admissions, said he doubted the site’s launch would make a difference for other higher ed test preparation groups like Kaplan Test Prep and Princeton Review.

“The issues is that they will still require substantial initiative by the teenagers to take advantage of these tools,” he said.

He said any advantage Khan might have over any other company would be “short-lived” because those other groups will soon have access to the tests the way Khan had, and have set methods of developing their test prep systems.

He added that it was likely that high school students and their parents will continue to access other services because of the personalized options and coaching those companies offer.

James Nondorf, the vice president of enrollment and student advancement and dean of admissions and financial aid at the University of Chicago, said he was most impressed with the partnership’s ability to immediately provide feedback to students using it.

He said as a high-caliber university with a holistic approach to admissions, he and admissions officers at the university would expect driven students to have higher scores by taking advantage of the free online tools.

“We will like to see a first-generation student or low-income student whose testing might be better now because it’s actually through hard work. They engaged with the Khan Academy system, worked on the skills the high school maybe wasn’t preparing adequately for or didn’t have a chance to learn those skills,” Nondorf said. “We’ve always respected kids who worked hard.”

Seppy Basili, vice president for college admissions and K-12 programs at Kaplan Test Prep, said any resource that can help to alleviate test anxiety for students is beneficial, including both Khan’s program and the ones offered by his company.

He said Kaplan and other test prep services place a strong emphasis on confidence building for students, making sure that clients feel prepared when they walk into the room to take the SAT or any other kind of test.

“Any time that there’s a recognition that test prep is important, it makes a strong statement that test prep is valuable,” Basili said.

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