The only thing more disappointing than the changes to the Scholastic Aptitude Test is the reporting by the news media on the event, including by yours truly.
There’s more to this story than meets the eye: It’s not just a simple case of vertical integration – which, with rare exception, most of the news media missed – it also comes with an added twist, coercion.
The SAT gives every impression of losing ground to its only competitor, the ACT test, another barometer for measuring college-level academic performance and part of many college applications.
The most recent numbers, as provided by The New York Times, show ACT test takers edging out SAT test takers by about 2,000 students, 1.666 million compared to 1.664 million.[i]
As The Times shows, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean the SAT is on the decline. At least 12 states, the paper says, “now require, and pay for, all public high school juniors to take” the ACT.[ii]
If you’re David Coleman, president of The College Board, which writes, publishes and owns the SAT, this isn’t good news.
The College Board should flat out own the market – not have to share half of it with its upstart competitor.
So what do you do to increase market share?
Answer: You adopt tactics and strategies to dominate the market and shape the industry’s standards, similar to what Starbucks and McDonald’s do so well in their industries.
Coleman, a former McKinsey & Co., consultant, studied the trends The College Board was experiencing, seeing that the SAT was under fire as being a meaningless test and the ACT was gaining ground.
As Coleman likely saw it, if ever there was a turnaround situation, this was it.
It’s very likely, during his consulting career, Coleman discussed vertical integration with his former employer’s clients.
Vertical integration, in case you don’t know, is a business practice that makes sense if it’s cheaper for a company to own their supplier instead of just buying its goods. It can also be sound judgment to vertically integrate if it provides an advantage over competitors in the marketplace.
To turn around The College Board’s fortunes, Coleman teamed up experts in education with ones from American industry and created a curriculum that could be adopted in the nation’s public school system, grades K – 12.
In other words, long before the current crop of elementary school kids even think about college, they’re prepping for the SAT because they’re exposed to Common Core.
In time, if those five states holding off on adopting Coleman’s new-fangled curriculum continue doing so, he’ll say their students didn’t do well on the SAT because Common Core was missing from their education.
Common Core is the means by which Coleman has assured the fortunes of The College Board. The fact that it comes at the expense of an outstanding K- 12 education, especially in Massachusetts, is no matter. He’s served his master.
The only thing to worry about now is when the ACT will wake up, realizing it, too, needs to develop its own K – 12 curriculum.
And the only question the journalism world needs to answer -- including me -- is why no one saw this story sooner. I offer no excuses.
[i] “Testing, Testing: More Students are Taking Both the ACT and SAT,” The New York Times, August 2, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/education/edlife/more-students-are-taking-both-the-act-and-sat.html?_r=0