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David Coleman: Promising to Address SAT Problems When Cornered

September 25, 2016

Reuters has been releasing articles related to the newly-designed SAT ever since someone anonymously sent over 400 SAT questions to the news agency on August 03, 2016.

Reuters has since reported on the August 26, 2016, FBI raid of former SAT exec Manuel Alfaro’s home as part of an investigation of the Reuters item release; Reuters also released a special report on September 21, 2016, concerning the “wordiness” of SAT math problems– an issue that Reuters notes could “reinforce race and income disparities”– and which was raised in College Board internal documents in 2014 yet apparently ignored.

And, of course, there are the well-known issues of SAT’s recycling its tests and items so that test takers in countries such as China and Macau are able to game the SAT test-taking system.

The question is, why hasn’t College Board’s wonder boy president, David Coleman, addressed these years ago?

The answer apparently lies in his finally being put on the spot in real time in a professional meeting combined with Reuters’ access to SAT insider info.

In short, Coleman has been cornered.

Now, in September 2016, Coleman has stated publicly that he will (finally?) address the wordiness of the newly-designed SAT’s math problems as well as the test/item recycling that obviously fuels overseas cheating on the SAT.

Again, Reuters reports (September 23, 2016):

David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board, said the New York not-for-profit organization wants to simplify the word problems on the new SAT’s math sections to eliminate “superfluous words.” His remarks Thursday, at a conference of colleges and guidance counselors, came a day after a Reuters report detailed how the College Board’s new test contained math problems that are much wordier than internal specifications called for.

Coleman said the College Board also aims to reduce its practice of recycling SAT questions used on prior exams. Reuters articles earlier this year revealed how test-preparation companies in Asia are systematically harvesting old questions and having their students practice on them. When those questions are reused on exam day, the clients enjoy a big advantage over students who haven’t seen the material before. …

Coleman was pressed about the math sections and the exam recycling by the audience during an appearance at the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Judi Robinovitz, a Florida educational consultant, expressed concern about a Reuters report Wednesday that the College Board had ignored its own internal research showing that the math questions on the new SAT were too long. …

Coleman said the College Board has seen “no meaningful difference” in completion rates on the new SAT between students whose first language is not English and those who are native English speakers. But he added that changes are in store for the new test, which debuted in March.

“We are going to do everything we can to further simplify the mathematics section. Using superfluous words is superfluous,” he said, later adding, “Every extra word should go. Complex, distracting situations should go.”

He said later, “I think the College Board should do everything it can because I’m worried about the perceptions in the [Reuters] article [from September 21].”

Superfluous words are superfluous. But let’s leave them in the test anyway until the media pressures Coleman to do what should have been done in 2014 when College Board first knew the wordiness was an issue.

And about the College Board practice of making cheating on the SAT easy by recycling tests and items:

Coleman was also asked by a college consultant in the audience about cheating on the SAT, and whether the College Board planned to do away with reusing test questions and switch to single-use, “one-and-done” tests.

“If you want to stop cheating internationally, give the tests once,” the consultant told Coleman. “Don’t repeat the same test ever.”

Coleman responded that some reuse of questions was necessary, but agreed that it was done too often. He said the College Board is trying to reduce recycling, while cautioning that doing so will be expensive and will take time.

“I think first and done is exactly right … it is exactly what we should all seek. And it’s going to take substantial advances in costs,” he said. “I do seek a better future and I do want to work on redesigning item and form redevelopment such that we can get there. And we are moving towards much greater first use and much more targeted reuse.”

So, SAT reuse is still going to happen. “First and done is exactly right,” but College Board under Coleman has yet to show any means to trying to do “exactly right” and combat the overseas cheating on the SAT other than canceling test sessions at the last minute.

And doing the SAT “exactly right” is going to cost more– which makes me wonder if more colleges and universities will decide that the cost of the SAT is not worth the negligible difference between admitting students using SAT/ACT and admitting without.

There is also the issue of SAT’s continuing to lose market share to ACT, as PBS reported in March 2016:

Many test-prep experts say the new SAT now looks more like its competitor, the ACT, which more students have opted to take in recent years. And it’s no coincidence. The SAT is losing market share to the ACT and has come under fire not only for its expense, but access. One of the many criticisms of the SAT is that the test creates a disadvantage for women, minorities and the poor who are less likely to afford the costly prep courses. The College Board aimed to tackle this by partnering with the Khan Academy, a[n] online educational service, to offer free test-prep.

Then there was the March 2016 effort for SAT to try to hide its new testing product from those most likely to approach it with a critical eye– the professional test-prep folk. As PBS notes:

But just days before the new test was administered, several would-be test-takers were uninvited. The College Board sent a letter to some who signed up saying they’ve been bumped until May. The board cited a “new security measure,” but most of those uninvited guests are actually test-prep professionals. Patrick Bock, a professional tutor who’s taken older versions of the SAT more than a dozen times, believes it was tactical. “They don’t want really bad press from experts who understand testing,” he said. “[Test-prep experts] skewer the tests for questions that aren’t quite where they need to be.”

So now, six months later, Coleman has Reuters pointing out that the redesigned SAT isn’t quite where it needs to be– and that the College Board knew as much years ago.

It takes being questioned in public at a professional meeting for Coleman to weakly rise to the occasion of unfavorable public perception.

I wonder how much longer the College Board will view Coleman as an organizational asset.

david coleman CB  David Coleman


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

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  1. Splendidanomaly permalink

    Please keep up the good work of reporting these issues!

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Yes. David Coleman should get work anywhere in the world except in the US and certainly not in education or testing. He has done damage to the College Board in addition to the SAT. The question is why the board of the College Board allows him to stay on as CEO.

  3. concernedcitizen permalink

    why is a non educator writing anything for education for our nation ?

  4. Christine Langhoff permalink

    Coleman has wildly suceeded at marketing himself as a competent professional in the areas of curriculum and testing. It’s a façade which crumbles more each day.

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