The College Board's (non)helpful hurdle

If you're a high school junior (or even senior or sophomore) or the parent of one, you have probably heard that there's a new SAT debuting in March. Not to brag, but I have my ticket to the premiere! What to wear, what to wear??

If you've cracked open the new College Board blue book (The Official SAT Study Guide) and didn't skip straight to the practice tests, you might have read the inspiring letters and first chapter at the beginning of the tome (oh, sorry, SAT test-taker! you're no longer expected to know or understand words like "tome", edit: "really big book"). Here's one excerpt:

The act of preparing for the SAT, therefore, is not just a one-time hurdle that must be overcome, but part of a deep engagement in improving your fluency with mathematics, literacy, and other skills that will serve you well in college, career, and life.
— The College Board

The optimism! The idealism! I love it. It's that more significant side of test prep (excuse me, "practice," which is the College Board's preferred term) that dedicated tutors hope for and believe in.  It's why, when I finish up a tutoring program, I have some parents thank me not for helping their kids jump through a required hoop but for giving them confidence as students. It's that moment when students say during SAT math class, "Wow, no one has ever explained that in a way I could understand before." Love these moments. They keep me going.

But do you know what else keeps me going? Results. And that, frankly, is the main reason students sign up for test prep--AH! I mean, practice. The goal is admission to college or a way to pay for college. It's a nice idea to think of the SAT as a vehicle for student growth, but, honestly, that's not what the SAT is about. The SAT is about giving third parties (schools, scholarship committees, etc.) a consistent way to recruit and judge students who go to different high schools.

What about the goal of learning? Isn't that valuable? Yes, of course, but I wish that test prep--practice!--were not the method for that "deep engagement" of skill fluency. That should come from the school, from classroom teachers. That the College Board is attempting to glorify "practice" as something lofty and inspirational and to say that the SAT "is not just a one-time hurdle" is ridiculous.

Let's call a spade, a spade, College Board. This is a college admissions test. It can be prepped. People will (must?), therefore, prep. That this prep coincidentally leads to improved fluency across skills is more a commentary on the nature of education in America than on the wonderfulness of your test. You have created a hurdle, College Board, and over 800 four-year colleges and universities are removing it as an admissions consideration because they don't believe that "GPA combined with an SAT score" is "even more predictive than GPA" for "demonstrating college readiness" (page 5).

Now, anyone up for a little SAT practice?

Note: The author, Elease Layman, absolutely loves to take standardized tests, including the SAT, which she eagerly took 5 times in high school. Geek! She also loves to prep students for standardized tests. These facts do not preclude her from recognizing the SAT for what it is.