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Stewart Urges Colleges Not To Misuse the S.A.T.

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WASHINGTON--Colleges should use the admissions-test scores of incoming freshmen to "send a message'' to high schools on the need to strengthen students' academic preparation, the president of the College Board contends.

Instead, many colleges inappropriately use the scores to compare themselves with other institutions, the board's chief, Donald M. Stewart, said in a speech here this month.

That practice, he said, could put pressure on admissions officers to admit students primarily on the basis of higher scores, in order to raise the college's average score.

In fact, he argued, scores on admissions tests are better used as a measure of the quality of a student's high-school education, since students with higher scores tend to be those with stronger precollegiate academic backgrounds.
"The test does tell us something about the outcomes of high school,'' said Mr. Stewart, whose organization administers the Scholastic Aptitude Test, one of the two major admissions tests used by colleges.

"The test scores are important,'' he said. "They tell where a student is.''

However, he added, "I don't look at the S.A.T. as a barrier. I look at it as a bridge between high school and college.''

Mr. Stewart's remarks came during a session of the annual meeting of the American Association for Higher Education, in which he appeared with Robert H. Atwell, president of the American Council on Education.

Last fall, Mr. Atwell cited colleges' alleged misuse of admissions-test scores in suggesting that such scores were a "totally inappropriate'' basis for deciding which students are admitted. (See Education Week, Dec. 9, 1987.)

'Chilling Effect'

Mr. Atwell reiterated those comments last week, and added that the undue weight accorded test scores has had a "chilling effect'' on minority students.

Those students, he said, may be reluctant to take a test on which they may perform poorly.

"I have to concede that for some minority-group members, the test can be used to advance their case,'' he said. "But I suspect that that group is outweighed by the number of minority-group members for whom the test is a chilling experience.''

That fear, he added, "may deter them from ever applying to institutions where they might do well.''

Mr. Stewart responded that despite that possibility, the tests are useful in determining college admission.

Grades from high-school courses alone are an inadequate measure of students' abilities in a diverse educational system, he said.

In addition, he suggested, minority students' fear of the examinations may be the result of a "public-relations problem.''

"Happily, the gap [between white students' scores and black students' scores] has been closing as schooling has improved for all people,'' Mr. Stewart said.

"We have to keep battling on the front of equal opportunity and improvement,'' he added. "Better schooling produces better test results.''-R.R.

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