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The Future of SAT Subject Tests And More: Updates From The New England College Board Forum


Last week, Summit was in attendance at the College Board’s New England Regional Forum in Boston. In addition to hearing that a new practice SAT (#8) would be available on Khan Academy at the end of the month, we learned much from a diverse group of panelists and attendees. Here are some of the highlights:

When will the SAT Subject Tests be redesigned/aligned with the new SAT?

The short answer—don’t expect anything new with Subject Tests for at least 5 years!

A College Board representative stated a few reasons for this:

1.) After surveying higher education institutions, they were told that colleges/universities didn’t want to handle even more changes all at once.
2.) The College Board has been learning some important lessons as they have been redesigning AP courses. They want to downstream some of this research to Subject Tests, but that will take planning and time.

In another session, we were told the College Board is currently putting a lot of work into AP. They are redesigning existing courses, creating new ones, and also increasing focus on Pre-AP Curriculum.  AP and Pre-AP are more intense courses for planning and outcomes, while Subject Tests are standalone tests. Because of this, the Subject Tests will be redesigned after those AP puzzle pieces are fit into place.

And the essential difference between AP and Subject Tests? SAT subject tests are written to test at the high school level, which is why they are considered in admissions but do not often result in college credit. AP classes emulate college-level content and rigor, so those test results are more often used for actual college credit and placement.

Subject Tests vs. AP at Brown University

For more on AP and Subject tests, we heard from Annie Cappuccino, Director of Admissions & Science Recruitment at Brown University. She noted that her school not only looks at the rigor of students’ classes, but also the sequence of courses taken. For instance, while it may seem like a student should take AP Biology immediately after a regular bio course, it is actually better to take some other science courses in between. This background in other disciplines gives the student more foundation to build a deeper understanding of biology.

Annie also mentioned that Subject Tests allow Brown to reach out to underrepresented students. Some schools do not offer AP courses. Additionally, College Board believes that Subject Tests offer a useful measurement of what students have learned in a more standardized way than do academic report cards.

A Recurring Theme: Our Kids are Overtested

The panels were staffed by high school teachers, principals, superintendents, and College Board representatives. The Massachusetts public school teachers consistently noted that their students were losing valuable class time due to the various assessments that they are required to perform. Between PARCC/MCAS, PSAT, SAT, and other tests, teachers and administrators were tired of testing—it’s not only a financial burden, but also a curricular and logistical one. Schools would welcome a move towards a streamlined suite of testing, like what College Board is offering in states such as Connecticut. It would be much easier to have students’ testing data all in the same place, and easier to compare performance. However, schools need to know that the College Board’s tests are actually assessing what their students learn in the classroom. Some schools at the forum stated that they feel their own state assessments are much better aligned with their curricula.  That, combined with the fact that Massachusetts was an early adopter of PARCC, mean that we are unlikely to see the SAT step in as a high school exit exam in the state…for now.

ESSA and its effects on AP fee waivers

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (which replaced No Child Left Behind), federal money is no longer being earmarked specifically for funding AP tests for low-income students. As of January, this money is now administered in a block grant that services 40 other educational programs. Districts are now responsible for allocating the money for their AP low-income fee waivers from this block grant. Many administrators at the conference noted that this change was problematic, and some of them had to pull money from other programs to be able to continue to fund their students. As always, the College Board continues to offer a fee reduction for low-income students taking AP tests, but it does not cover the full price.

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    Many thanks, Josh, for this helpful update on testing. Alan

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