New SAT won't close achievement gap for low-income, minority students

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The SAT is getting another makeover and the College Board touts the test will be easier and more accessible to all students.

Unveiled Wednesday, the standardized test will now contain more "relevant" vocabulary words, fewer math topics, an optional essay and an "evidence-based" reading and writing section. The Collage Board also promised that this test will give more minority and low-income students access to free online test prep resources and fee waivers.

But going back to a 1600-point scale, making an essay optional and more online classes available won't solve the access problems many of these students face when trying to take the test, some education experts argue.

Robert Schaffer, public-education director for FairTest, says that the new test is really not that significant for disadvantaged students.

"It doesn't assess low-income students better or more accurately," said Schaffer. "Only looking at high school grades,

a student' profile and collected work over time is the only way to make a holistic judgment based on a comprehensive assessment of a student."

Nancy Leopold also says that the SAT overhaul will only make a minor dent in the underlying issue--access.

"Research shows that this test has been demonstrated to systematically understate the abilities of low-income and minority students," said Leopold, whose Maryland-based education group, CollegeTracks, has sent about 2,300 underserved students to college in the last 10 years.

What these students truly need, explains Leopold, are educated, empathetic grown-ups who have gone through the complicated college admission process first-hand.

"The critical difference between the kids we serve and other kids is that to no fault of their own, they come from families with no college-going experience and guidance counselors have hundreds of students and can't possibly spend the intense time needed to get all the details right," said Leopold.

Over 60 percent of CollegeTracks' students learned English as a second language, a demographic similar to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The SAT and ACT are made for students very familiar with English, even math problems are embedded in English," said Leopold. "So for students who are not native speakers, they can't possibly do as well as someone with the same knowledge and skills, but who has been speaking English from birth."

And even though the vocabulary and reading sections will be more aligned with what students learn in school, Leopold and Schaffer argue that the test still will not truly measure students' college readiness.

Colleges seem to be catching on. More than 800 colleges and universities are standardized test optional, and that number keeps growing. Critics say the College Board's new SAT is a last-ditch effort to stay in the profitable college game--we just have to wait until 2016 to see.