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Redesigned SAT May Require Change to NCAA Initial Eligibility

By now, even many casual college sports fans know that the NCAA is rolling out major changes to eligibility for incoming freshman in 2016. But now, independent of the NCAA’s changes, another major update is in the works for the same year.

Starting in Spring 2016, the College Board will roll out a redesigned version of the SAT. While it will still keep many of the major hallmarks of the SAT test, there will be significant differences in the tests content, administration, and scoring.

The critical reading portion will become Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. This portion of the test will require them to use relevant words in context and cite evidence from sources. Rather than just literature and nonfiction work, those sources will include charts and graphs and draw from more subject areas including science. Also included will be a passage from America’s founding documents or famous works like the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

The math section will have three focuses: Problem Solving and Data Analysis, the Heart of Algebra, and Passport to Advanced Math. This means the math questions will be drawn from fewer subject areas but will cover those topics in greater depths.

For the first time, the SAT will be administered via computer as well as paper. Calculators will no longer be permitted on all math sections, only some to greater test a student’s fluency of numbers and calculation. The essay portion, which is currently required, will now be optional.

Because the essay is now optional, scores will revert from the current 2400 point scale to the old 1600 point scale, with a separate essay score. The SAT will also switch to rights-only scoring. That means the .25-point deduction for wrong answers will no longer apply.

For the NCAA, the biggest potential impact is in the combination of the new test material and rights-only scoring. This may change the predictive value of the test for a given score. If the test gets “harder” and for a given score, graduation rates go up, perhaps the NCAA will shift the sliding scale to require a lower SAT score for a given GPA. Likewise if the test ends up “easier”, then higher scores might be required for each GPA. Those shifts though are likely to be relatively small, on the order of 10–20 points.

While the timing is inconvenient for the NCAA, it is not nearly as big an issue had the NCAA not dropped the dramatic shift in the sliding scale that was initially proposed. There may still be some work to be done though, especially since the class of 2016 will have three test dates using the redesigned test (March, May, and June of 2016). If the NCAA gets good enough data from the SAT’s own research to come to a conclusion about the sliding scale, athletes graduating in 2016, 2017, and maybe 2018 might have three test scores for each GPA: old SAT, new SAT, and ACT.

The real challenge for the NCAA will be handling the questions and confusion of prospects in 2016. In addition to new requirements, a new way to meet those requirements is coming at the same time. Hopefully as perhaps the SAT’s single biggest customer, the NCAA is being kept in the loop on the changes and the research into their effects. And for the class of 2016, my advice is to get the SAT score you need before you have to study for a brand new test in March 2016.

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