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James S. Murphy, who tutors high school students for the SAT, says that the new, redesigned SAT is likely to pose high barriers to the neediest students. The new SAT will be aligned with the Common Core, both under the direction of the same man, David Coleman.
But as Murphy points out, students in at least eight states will have no experience with the Common Core. Many other states are just beginning to implement them. Many students are unprepared for the new SAT.
Murphy says that the math portion of the SAT is particularly daunting.
“One problem with tying the SAT to these new standards is that it will force students and schools to play a long game of catch-up. Most states will be gradually implementing the standards over the next few years—assuming it will only take that long and assuming that any student taking the exam attends a school that is successfully using standards. At last check, 42 states are in the process of implementing the Common Core standards—three of the original participants dropped out—but they are doing so at different rates.
“The other consequence of (theoretically) basing the new SAT on what students are doing in their classrooms is that it threatens to makes success on the exam even more subject to socioeconomic background. Students at struggling schools—where teachers tend to have less experience and and support and where Common Core-related textbooks can be scarce—could be at a disadvantage. After all, they haven’t had exposure to the very materials and instruction integral to performing well on the test. This could all amount to an ironic twist: For all the faults of the SAT, one of its merits, at least in theory, is that it can identify students whose formal education might be lacking but who have the mental firepower to succeed given the opportunity.”
If more states pull out of the Common Core, the problems Murphy describes will grow worse. Coleman is betting the future of the SAT on his belief that the Common Core standards will prevail and become national standards. Some students will suffer because of that decision, or the SAT risks becoming irrelevant by its close alignment with a single set of standards whose value remains unknown and unproven.