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Changes to SAT to have minor impact locally

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

National changes to the format, focus and scoring structure of the Scholastic Aptitude Test will have negligible effects locally as the ACT remains the predominate choice for high school seniors and colleges in Kentucky.

The College Board announced many changes to the SAT last week. The alterations include elimination of the penalty for guessing and recording an incorrect answer; the scoring rubric will return to a 1,600-point scale from the 2,400-point scale (800 potential points for reading and 800 for mathematics); the essay section, which has been required since 2005, will now be optional and in a separate scoring system; and words in the vocabulary section will focus more on those commonly used in college courses.

The emphasis in the mathematic and reading sections will also be tweaked. Linear equations, complex functions, ratios, percentage and proportional reasoning will headline the mathematics section, and calculators will only be permitted for a portion. In literary sections, source material from a variety of topics including science and social studies will be used, and every test will use a national historical reading passage.

All local students in the city and county school systems take the American College Testing or ACT, and relatively few also take the SAT. The reason behind this preference is three-fold: The state finances every public school student in Kentucky for one round of ACT testing during the spring semester, the ACT is one of the district's measurements of college and career readiness, and the majority of Kentucky colleges require the ACT, said Paducah public schools Assistant Superintendent Donald Shively.

Shively said the new requirements focus more on several areas of study, including critical thinking and 21st-century problem solving, more similar to the high school curriculum. He acknowledged that the alterations could interest more students to take both tests and then use the higher score.

"The changes mirror a lot of what we are doing as a district in defining critical student skills and measuring progress for college or professional life after high school," he said.

Shively, along with McCracken County District Assessment Coordinator Melanie Jarvis, said the handful of students who do take the SAT are in contention for national merit accolades based on their scores on the pre-SAT (PSAT) test or are applying to a school that accepts only the SAT.

"Kentucky and the entire region are ACT heavy because that is what is accepted in-state," Jarvis said.

Tena Payne, vice president of academic affairs at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, said the school will begin a new placement policy this fall that allows incoming students to use the SAT or the ACT for admission. She said the school previously has just used the ACT due to its popularity in the state and across the region.

Few WKCTC students take the SAT, but the school amended the policy to accommodate transfer students from the north and east where the SAT is the more popular choice, Payne said.

Murray State University enrollment management spokeswoman Charlotte Bradshaw said the SAT changes wouldn't affect high school students applying because the school only requires the ACT for admission.

The make-up date for city and county juniors to take the ACT, which was set for last Tuesday but postponed due to weather, is March 18.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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