06/11/2014 01:18 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2014

The New SAT: A Pedagogically Effective Test?

Major changes will be affecting the SAT in 2016.

This isn't the first time changes have affected the long withstanding SAT, a standardized exam colleges and universities have traditionally used to evaluate students' academic standing and ultimately, acceptance. In 2005, the College Board adjusted question formats, added a written essay and changed its score scale from 1600 to 2400.

Now the College Board has implemented an entirely new SAT that will reflect major pedagogical changes across the content areas including reading and Math. For the first time in SAT history, the College Board has decided to realign their testing material so that it reflects what's actually taught in classrooms in order to prepare the future college student for rigorous academic demands.

Change in Real-world Applications

If you think about it, not only do students need enabling skills, but they are expected to apply those skills to tackle real-world application. This means they will have needed to spend considerable time in the classroom applying the building blocks of learning to real-world applications. This is a higher level thinking skill and one that is needed for succeeding on the new SAT.

In a science classroom, for example, this might mean applying technical terms in an experimental laboratory by simulating real-world situations. By real-world application changes, no longer will reading and Math be detached from students' educations. Real world applications will affect reading and math as well as the sciences including social sciences.

How the Test Will Change

The new SAT is "born" from the idea that learning and assessment are inextrictably connected. Thus, future SAT-takers will be expected to answer questions based on reading passages from a broader range of disciplines including science, history, social studies and literature. Real-world applications provide students with real-life learning experiences that are connected to learning both in and out of the classroom. "For students to succeed on the new version of the SAT, teachers must create classroom learning experiences for their students to suit the academic expectations of the test," says Nathan Arora, President of, an online tutoring company.

The Need for Deeper Reading and Understanding

Students will be required to cite evidence for their answer choices. From a reading point of view, they will need to be able to distinguish main ideas from supporting details while navigating complex and abstract textual ideas.

No longer will students need to memorize lists upon lists of obscure and unfamiliar words. Instead, they will need to use higher thinking skills to reason how "bigger" sounding words like "synthesis" and "empirical."

The rationale is to reinforce learning with a real-world context as it pertains to vocabulary. that have real-world use outside the classroom will have to consider the context of how words like "synthesis" and "empirical" are used. They're not "SAT words" as they've come to be known, Coleman said, but words students are likely to encounter again.

The math section will now shift to data analysis and real world problem-solving, algebra and some more advanced math concepts -- areas that will prepare students for college and career.

Finally, the written part or essay, of the SAT is optional. SAT essays have been the subject of ongoing criticism mainly by educators who struggled with the grading of the writing, often focusing on content rather than the validity and reasonability of their opinions and ideas.

What do These Changes Mean for Fostering Real World Learning that Prepares Students?

Rather than hiring private expensive tutors to crack the SAT or enrolling in expensive programs, the challenge for the next generation of SAT takers will most likely rest on the shoulders of already taxed teachers.

Teachers cannot foster real world learning on their own. They depend on school leadership to help facilitate effective teaching. continue to face ongoing challenges with time, money and issues of school leadership that often get in the way of effective teaching. School leadership influences the degree to which teachers and other stakeholders develop partnerships.

Of course, teachers can develop activities either on their own or in teams, but in today's classroom, the emphasis on standardized and high stakes testing is on outcomes, and teachers need to work over a period of several years so High School students develop these skills alongside these academic expectations and standards.

When the building blocks of school leadership aren't effectively in place, their work might not lend itself to deeper learning and application of abstract concepts.

Aligning Educational Standards to Support the SAT

Assessment is an integral part of student and teacher accountability and standards provide the bridge towards determining whether instructional content has been delivered effectively. So the question therefore is twofold:

1. Are today's educational standards correctly aligned with the material students would encounter on an SAT exam?

2. Are teachers providing enough academic support in the form of enabling and higher level skills?

The SAT has to catch-up with a lot of what's happening behind the "academic scenes." Since the SAT carries so much weight, perhaps it's time for the College Board to work closely with school districts and teachers to help develop a pedagogically sound test that truly evaluates what students have learned.