New SAT not a big deal for local kids |

New SAT not a big deal for local kids

Alex Miller
Preston Utley/Vail Daily Eagle Valley High teacher Jennifer Wright, takes a time out from her lesson planning to visit with some former students.

EAGLE COUNTY – As if preparing for what may be the most important test of their life isn’t hard enough, some college-bound students now have to adjust to what is probably the biggest change ever in the SAT – a mandatory essay.That is, if they even take the SAT. While it may be the most widely taken college admissions test on the East and West coasts, students in the middle of the country lean toward the ACT (most colleges and universities accept either). In Colorado, all high school juniors take the ACT, according to Jan Abbott, a counselor at Battle Mountain High School in Eagle-Vail.”Only about 10 to 15 percent of our seniors take the SAT,” Abbott said, adding that she thinks the changes put it more in line with the curriculum-based focus of the ACT. That is, the test asks more about what students have learned versus what might be considered innate skills.Abbot isn’t surprised the SAT added an essay, echoing the concerns colleges have about assessing writing skills on the basis of admission essays.

“They’re concerned with how much assistance they might have had with that kind of essay,” she said. “The idea of a quick, five-paragraph essay on the SAT should give them a better idea.”On the ACT, an essay is optional. Abbott said students usually take that version of the test only if they think they’ll apply to colleges that require it.In addition to the essay, the new version of the SAT – which was administered for the first time Saturday – includes more advanced algebra questions and a multiple-choice grammar section. The additions push the test-taking time over the four-hour mark.”After a while you just stop caring and want it to be over,” Sheryl Nagy, a junior at Burbank High School in California, said after Saturday’s test. “They added a lot of reading comprehension, and it was just hard to keep reading and reading and reading.”For some, four hours wasn’t enough.”I ran out of time, actually, so my ending was rushed and I didn’t finish it as strongly as I hoped,” said Carter Butland, a junior at Upper Arlington High School in Columbus, Ohio. But he said a test-prep course helped at least somewhat: he could skip reading the directions.

Time for a changeThe move to change the SAT was driven by several factors, according to Jon Zeitlin of Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions in New York.”The push really came from California,” Zeitlin said, adding that college administrators in that state were seeing too many freshmen simply unable to write very well. “They threatened to stop using the SAT unless they changed the test.”Zeitlin said he has some concerns about how the College Board – which administers the SAT – will score the essays, since they claim they can grade them in under a minute. He also noted that students seem to be more concerned with the new grammar section than the essay.”Grammar is taught less and less in schools, and kids are surrounded by examples of bad grammar in media and culture,” he said. “We have to go back in and teach them some of the more formal rules.”

Kaplan, which makes a big business out of preparing students to take college entrance exams, has seen a surge in enrollment as the result of the new SAT.”It’s like when the tax code changes,” Zeitlin said. “Everyone goes running for the accountants.”The Associate Press contributed to this report.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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