Common Core and the new SAT

Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation connects the revamp of the SAT with the controversy over the “Common Core” initiative. And with justification.

As we have noted, one of the major changes to the SAT will be to align the test more closely with what high schools teach. According to Burke, the high school curriculum the folks at College Board are referring to is the Common Core. Indeed, the president of the College Board, David Coleman, is one of the architects of the Common Core. He maintains that “the Common Core provides substantial opportunity to make the SAT even more reflective of what higher education wants.”

The notion is an odd one. What “higher education” has wanted from the SAT is a means of evaluating applicants that measures something different from that which is measured by the high school transcript. But mastery (or lack thereof) of what the Common Core teaches presumably figures into the transcripts of high schools students whose schools teach to the Common Core. Therefore, Coleman’s agenda seems to entail giving colleges less of what they want from the SAT, not more.

Coleman’s real agenda, one suspects, is to promote the Common Core by providing a strong incentive for its use. The more closely the SAT is tied to the Common Core, the more likely jurisdictions are to accept it, so as not to put their students at a potential disadvantage in the college admissions process.

There are decent arguments both for and against the Common Core. Burke contends that it dumbs down high school education in much the same ways that Coleman’s changes would dumb down the SAT. I take no position here on this question.

But regardless of the merit of the Common Core, it seems plainly improper to throw the weight of the College Board behind it. Jurisdictions are already under financial pressure from the feds to use the Common Core. They shouldn’t be subject to further coercion from the College Board.

If the College Board persists, colleges may engage in self-help. One form would be to stop using the SAT, a reasonable response to the extent that the test measures much of what the high school transcript does.

Another form of self-help might be to create two SAT scales — one for students from Common Core jurisdictions and one for other students. This would enable colleges to eliminate the unfair advantage that students from the former might otherwise obtain.

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