The College Board has raised a lot of eyebrows–and anxiety–with the SAT revisions being rolled out in March 2016. While the wisdom of most of the changes can be debated, one new policy seems almost indefensible: the new SAT will include a No-Calculator Math section.
If the implications of this addition are unclear, this means that every SAT will include 20 questions (15 Multiple-Choice and 5 Student-Produced Responses) to be completed in 25 minutes entirely without the use of a calculator. Yes, the Math section will also serve up 38 math questions that permit calculator support, but teens today are used to using their calculators for EVERYTHING.
With the SAT already losing ground to the other college admissions test in town, why would the College Board make a decision almost guaranteed to drive students into the proverbial arms of the ACT? According to the College Board, this change is in students’ best interests:
“Calculators are important tools, and to succeed after high school, you’ll need to know how — and when — to use them. In the Math Test – Calculator portion of the test, you’ll be able to focus on complex modeling and reasoning because your calculator can save you time.
“However, the calculator is, like any tool, only as smart as the person using it. The Math Test includes some questions where it’s better not to use a calculator, even though you’re allowed to. In these cases, students who make use of structure or their ability to reason will probably finish before students who use a calculator.
“The Math Test – No Calculator portion of the test makes it easier to assess your fluency in math and your understanding of some math concepts. It also tests well-learned technique and number sense.”
So all of a sudden, the College Board can’t properly assess math fluency when students are permitted calculators? This hardly makes sense considering how skillful the test maker has been in negating the advantage afforded by calculators by emphasizing problem solving and conceptual understanding over calculation.
But a line from the The Redesigned SAT Teacher Implementation Guide opens a window to understanding what forces are really at play here: “…the calculator is a tool that students must use strategically, deciding when and how to use it.”
With this, the College Board tips its hand, illuminating the true source of this controversial policy: Common Core. Every aspect of the new SAT is lashed tightly to Common Core, with the No-Calculator policy mirroring the fifth Standards for Mathematical Practice: Use Appropriate Tools Strategically:
“Mathematically proficient students consider the available tools when solving a mathematical problem. These tools might include pencil and paper, concrete models, a ruler, a protractor, a calculator, a spreadsheet, a computer algebra system, a statistical package, or dynamic geometry software. Proficient students are sufficiently familiar with tools appropriate for their grade or course to make sound decisions about when each of these tools might be helpful, recognizing both the insight to be gained and their limitations.”
Clearly, the College Board has staked the future of the SAT on its alignment with Common Core. Whether that alliance will keep the test relevant when hordes of mental math-averse students abandon it for the ACT, only time will tell…