Editorial: The New, 'Less Coachable' SAT Writing Test: Coachable

With the SAT rapidly losing popularity among university admissions offices, the College Board recently reworked the entire test, shifting the content of the multiple choice sections and, most notably, added a writing section. Facing complaints that the old SAT gave wealthy, white students an unfair advantage, College Board officials said that the new test would hopefully be “”less coachable,”” reducing potential advantages for students who can pay for preparation courses.

The College Board released the new test for the graduating class of 2006; the redesigned exam was meant to “”improve upon the predictive validity”” of the test after the University of California threatened to drop it in 2001.

Earlier this month, however, board officials admitted that the new writing section is coachable, with significant gains possible for students who had received private help.

The College Board was quick to argue that this may not be such a bad thing: Private coaching that helps improve writing, they say, is beneficial for students. Instead of attacking the coachability of the test, the board argues, we should transition this training into public schools. Theoretically, This is not a bad idea, but also not the most realistic way to reduce the gap between wealthy and lower-income students, especially in the short term.

The fact that the board’s own research easily demonstrated the coachability of the test raises a question, however: Why wasn’t this aspect investigated before the release of the new test, especially since coaching has been a sensitive issue for the College Board in the past? The problem should have been taken up in the initial research phase of the redesign, at the very least giving the board time to address the issue and deflect criticism, perhaps by offering a free online coaching program for the writing section.

Although the new test was supposed to level the field for all students, the board’s own research shows that it falls short. The College Board needs to try again – and get it right.