The College Board got it right

The new SAT is not 'dumbed down,' but more practical

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The New Year ushered in more than a revised SAT.

At first glance, the change seems like an insult to students: the simplified critical reading section in particular has become the subject of controversy. As of March this year, students graduating from 2016 onward will finally be provided with context to help them understand the test’s higher-level vocabulary.

In other words, there’s no longer a need to memorize long lists of obscure words found in the most scholarly of articles. Instead, scores will reflect comprehension of passages more suitable for a high school audience — our audience.

So, what does this mean? That we’ve regressed in the English language — enough for even the College Board to “dumb down” its tests?

That we, as high school students, are losing our edge?

Choosing feeble intellectualism over raw, powerful clarity is as great of a mistake as accusing high schoolers of any “intellectual deterioration.””

If you define “edge” as “the patience to confront multisyllabic vocabulary and vague academese splattered throughout a page in pretentious disarray,” then maybe. But surely there’s more to intellectual performance than defining “lepidopterist” — and many students agree. Eighty percent of those polled by the College Board said that the new SAT’s vocabulary would actually be useful later in life, as opposed to the 55 percent who reported feeling that way about the old exam.

“But Michelle,” the intellectually elite, egos wounded, cry out, “it is as nonsensical as it is untrue to purport that such vile intellectual deterioration countervails practicality! I refuse to dumb myself down for the sake of uneducated, inferior sheeple!”

Sure, but consider this: what point is there to any intellectual rigor if it isn’t accessible to the majority of our student body? Now, I know this might be hard for “intellectuals” to process, but it’s actually possible to be intelligent, educated and well-informed without the ability to score a perfect 800 on the critical reading section.

An ability that, by the way, won’t be very useful in the real world.

On the old SAT, the critical reading section would always contain a few passages on political discourse. With them, it tried to inform students of controversial topics in the past and present. But here’s the issue: this kind of scholarly writing has one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to convey an idea.

Then how can a text with language so obtuse, so convoluted, ever fulfill that purpose? And shouldn’t we be more responsible when we want to engage young students in politics and other current events? Intimidating them with the post-collegiate reading level required to simply scratch the surface isn’t very helpful.

And that’s what I’m afraid of.

If we continue to enforce the idea that complexity equals depth, and that lengthy words are powerful words, then that is when we’ll truly regress in the English language. Choosing feeble intellectualism over raw, powerful clarity is as great of a mistake as accusing high schoolers of any “intellectual deterioration.”

There’s beauty in simplicity, and the revisions made to standardized testing are proof of that. As students, we have a lot of problems on our proverbial plate, but one of them is no longer the SAT.

Happy 2016 — let’s thank the College Board for doing something right.

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