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March 07, 2014

Mike Wasserman, executive director of the Boston-based nonprofit Bottom Line, says changes to the SAT represent important steps towards increasing access to low-income students.

Nonprofit education leaders in Boston say changes to the SAT should help make the college entrance exams more accessible for low-income students.

The College Board announced earlier this week that they will be revamping the traditional college entrance exam to, among other things, help level the playing field. Students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers and the essay will be optional. The goal, the Board says, is to more accurately measure how students perform in high school.

Mike Wasserman is executive director of the nonprofit Bottom Line, which helps students get into college. He says the SAT can be stressful, especially for those students who can’t afford expensive test-preparation courses.

“I think the intention here is to level the playing field to get rid of some of the strategies," Wasserman said. "You know the things that you go to a class and you learn the tricks.”

Wasserman thinks the changes announced this week should help disadvantaged students, but the underlying inequalities between urban and suburban schools persist.

“That’s still there. A test can’t get rid of that. But I think that they’re doing some small steps that will go toward evening it out,” said Wasserman.

Educators are also welcoming the College Board’s decision to offer free, online test-prep courses. David Coleman, president of the College Board, announced a partnership with Khan Academy to provide prep videos online for free. Those courses, they say, have the potential to help disadvantaged students compete with better-prepared peers.

Richard Pérez-Peña with The New York Times wrote about the effect changes could have.

It has been understood for decades that people who grow up in families with wealth, education, access to good schools or all three have a leg up in testing, a fact that has often been used to attack claims about innate ability or merit. That will remain true, but supporters hope that planned changes in the test will reduce those advantages by tying the SAT more closely to the material that any college-bound senior should have learned in a common core curriculum across the nation.

More and more schools are making tests like the SAT and ACT, the SAT's main competitor, optional for their application process. In Massachusetts alone, 28 schools are "test-optional."

Changes to the test won't take effect until 2016.

college board, new business models, SAT, increasing access and success

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