Low-income students to benefit from SAT changes

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By Mackenzie Mays
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The College Board announced major changes to the SAT on Wednesday, including cutting back the test's possible points and changing its categories, revamping content to align more closely with current college courses and waiving college application fees for low-income students.

The SAT, which was last updated nearly a decade ago, will use a 1,600-point scale, instead of its existing 2,400-point scale, and will feature only two required sections -- math and evidence-based reading and writing. (Reading and writing currently are separate sections.)

The new test, to debut in 2016, drops the required essay, making it optional, and also nixes its controversial "guessing penalty," which deducted more points for wrong answers than for answers left blank.

The board also announced Wednesday that every income-eligible student who takes the SAT will automatically receive fee waivers to apply to up to four colleges. The ACT already offers the four-college application waiver. Free test-prep materials also will be provided, with help from the Khan Academy.

Those developments could be especially meaningful in West Virginia, where nearly 60 percent of the student body qualifies for discounted meal plans and more high school students take the ACT than the SAT.

In 2013, about 63 percent of the state's graduating class took the ACT, while only about 11 percent took the SAT.

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission officials said those numbers most likely overlap, meaning some students take both tests.

In West Virginia, students' SAT scores are converted to ACT equivalents by the HEPC, to determine scholarship eligibility.

Other major changes to the test include an overhaul of its vocabulary, which no longer will include "obscure" words and will instead use "words that students will use consistently in college and beyond," according to a news release.

The new, optional, essay will be scored separately from the rest of the test and will ask students to analyze evidence, instead of the more personal, anecdotal version of the existing essay.

Members of the College Board -- which was overseen by former Gov. Gaston Caperton until 2012 -- disagreed on the importance of the essay, according to the release.

Caperton refused to comment on the developments.

Calculators will not be allowed on certain portions of the math section, which now will focus on fewer topics, including problem solving, data analysis and algebra.