Students will want to read up on Constitution for 2016 SAT tests

Important changes are on the way for students taking a new form of the SAT test, including sections that will require them to interpret the meaning of passages from the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and other founding documents.

The College Board, which administers the test, released a few sample draft questions this week, to give educators and students a sense of what is coming.

The group has detailed information on its web site at https://www.collegeboard.org, including a 211-page document about the new question format and test specifications.

The board says there are eight key changes from the current SAT, including a section on “Relevant Words In Context.”

One of the sample questions in this area is on the Gettysburg Address, the speech by President Abraham Lincoln that has had a profound effect on generations of Americans, and on civil rights discussions that had constitutional ramifications.

“Questions on the redesigned SAT’s Reading Test might also explore how the same word shifts meaning between or even within contexts,” the group said, citing the example of how Lincoln used the word “dedicate” in the Gettysburg Address.

“In the hands of an adept writer and orator such as Lincoln, even a relatively simple, common word such as ‘dedicate’ can take on a range of nuanced, related meanings and implications,” the board says about the way Lincoln employed the word six times in his compact speech.

A sample question, it says, could ask a student to compare two different uses of the word and how the use differs in “meaning, tone, and overall rhetorical effect.”

Another new part of the test is called “Command of Evidence”, and the sample question in the Reading section is about the constitutional impeachment process, citing a speech by Barbara Jordan in 1974, and the relevance her references to the Federalist Papers.

Jordan, a congresswoman from Texas, spoke to the House Judiciary Committee on July 25, 1974, during the President Richard M. Nixon impeachment proceedings. Students are asked to analyze Jordan’s use of the following Alexander Hamilton quote from the Federalist Papers, number 65:

“Prosecutions of impeachments will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community. We divide into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused,” Hamilton wrote anonymously.

And then there is an entire area devoted to Founding Documents and the Great Global Conversation.

“The U.S. founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers, have helped inspire a conversation that continues to this day about the nature of civic life,” the board says. “Every time students take the redesigned SAT, they will encounter a passage from one of the founding documents or from a text from the global conversation. In this way, we hope that the redesigned SAT will inspire a close reading of these rich, meaningful, often profound texts, not only as a way to develop valuable college and career readiness skills but also as an opportunity to reflect on and deeply engage with issues and concerns central to informed citizenship.”

The board also said that some tests will contain a selection from a U.S. founding document, while others will have a selection from a text from the Great Global Conversation, including passages from Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The questions will be accompanied by historical notes and won’t assume students had previously read the passages. Two sample questions in this context asked for more analysis of Jordan’s speech and its relationship to the Constitution.

The changes are expected to take place in Spring 2016 and scoring will return to a 1,600 point scale. The essay question that is in the current test will be optional in the new test.

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