Changing the SAT, and Opening Up Education

It’s not surprising that the impending changes to the SAT have elicited such strong reactions.  In addition to evoking nostalgia from those who were subjected to the test, the changes draw our attention to the college admissions process and related trends that warrant attention.

The College Board admits that college readiness among high school students remains steady but low, at about 43%.  And that for low-income students, the rate of attaining bachelor’s degrees has remained virtually unchanged (8%), despite steep increases in immediate enrollment following high school graduation (from 23% to 55%).

These findings suggest that while getting into college remains a challenge for the majority of high school students, the goal of persisting and completing a degree is even more daunting- especially for those from low-income backgrounds.

While I am skeptical that changes to the SAT will single-handedly result in improved college admission and retention rates, I am heartened by the partnership between the College Board and the Kahn Academy that will make SAT preparation free and accessible via the internet.

By opening up the industry of SAT preparation and making it both transparent and accessible, it will- at least in theory- remove major barriers to empower individual students with the knowledge and tools needed to gain access to and succeed in college.

This move away from the “mystery” and need for consultants, strategists, and specialized fee-based preparation, represents a potentially monumental shift within education, one that may have far-reaching impacts in both directions of the pipeline.

Colleges and universities have long benefited from a level of opacity that has left students and parents to gauge quality through indirect lenses and measures.  Through web-based evaluation, social media, accreditation, and rankings, external metrics of quality are becoming more available, with much more innovation to come.  In the near future, web-based tools will allow parents and students to search for and select colleges based on individualized fit as well as likelihood of graduating and securing jobs or advanced degrees.  

As parents and students, and the money that follows them, become more sensitive to these variables, higher education will in turn respond, making strategic investments in programs and amenities that align with market demands, especially as they compete for increasingly precious enrollments.

Higher education can and will change, but the implications for Prek-12 are less clear.  As knowledge and information become more open and accessible to individual students and parents, the role of schools and their guidance counselors/ offices must be re-envisioned, or at least re-engineered.

Perhaps once the tools are available, parents and students will begin to see college acceptance not as an end (or accomplishment) in itself, but as a vehicle to propel them toward some higher destination.  Ideally, guidance counselors (and parents) will assume the responsibility and privilege of helping students find their place in the larger world, clarifying their strengths and interests, while exploring various applications and career paths. 

The opening up of education is already happening whether we choose to be aware of it or not.  Hopefully, we can fully embrace its potential and benefit from the unprecedented opportunity it will afford.

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