If you’re as old as I am, you may remember your parents lamenting a thing called “new math”. Back in the 60’s, the post- red scare of the Sputnik satellite crisis inspired the U.S. Department of Education to endeavor to boost America’s science and math skills in order to compete with Soviet engineers in the race for space. The failed experiment of “new math” fell by the wayside rather quickly, as parents and educators pushed back. Nonetheless it seems every few years the bar continues to move on the hurdles college-bound students have to jump. Nowadays it seems the fear of international competition is once again driving change, most recently seen in the new SAT math section, launching in 2016.
Three focal points will comprise this now-50% of the SAT score: Data Analysis and Problem Solving, Algebra, and Advanced Math. Pseudo-poetic names have been applied to take the sting out, perhaps, but students, educators and parents need to be aware of how this changes the rules of the game for millions of college-bound students.
1. The first portion is the only one with a straightforward name–Problem Solving and Data Analysis. This includes the use of percentages, ratios and proportional reasoning in solving scientific problems. Whereas these types of problems on the old SAT might have been about imaginary baseball teams, now a real-world application and deeper levels of analysis will be required for top scorers, perhaps in social science or career contexts.
2. The College Board is calling the second portion of the new SAT math “The Heart of Algebra”, an oddly poetic phrase for an ever-increasingly linear test section. This will concentrate on competence in linear equations and systems that will help students build proficiencies in abstraction. What a “Heart” has to do with algebraic abstraction is anybody’s guess, but it sounds like a big ol’ Valentine’s Day card filled with x’s and y’s instead of x’s and 0’s.
3. Finally, the new SAT isn’t done with metaphor, because their “Passport to Advanced Math” invites students to navigate advanced equations and the complex manipulations many will need in their careers. Perhaps the passport means they do so with a nice set of luggage, and work for people in and from countries all over the world. Competition, schmompetition. Ooh, snap. Yes, I just went there.
Listen, like many educators I appreciate that practical applications will take precedence over theory. My concern is that the new SAT math emphasis creates a higher bar for many students for whom math is not their strongest suit. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, just pointing out that classroom math teachers now need to provide strategies that will help students in the class of 2017 and beyond do well on this new SAT. My prediction is that an increased demand for math tutoring in the U.S. is right around the corner.
As a personal aside, I happen to be the mom of a current high school sophomore who will face this test next year. Trust me, I am paying close attention. My freshman will be taking the test one year after she does. I only wish the futures of my children (and yours) weren’t hanging in the balance as early stages of this new test are rolled out. The stakes for millions of teenagers are as high as a satellite.