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College Board Ponders Changes in College-Admission Test

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Copyright 1988 In three to five years, the test could include longer reading passages designed to test critical-reading skills, open-ended mathematics questions aimed at thwarting coaching techniques, and an essay that would yield a separate sat writing score.

"We feel we have the best such test in the world, but there is a willingness to explore change," said Paul M. Pressly, president of the Savannah (Ga.) Country Day School and chairman of the board's sat committee.

'Asked To Do Many Things'

Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, said the review of the sat was begun because of the increasing demands placed on test results by the education community.

"It is being asked to do many4things, by many different agencies," he said.

The sat is now used, according to Mr. Stewart, not only for its primary purpose as an admissions test to predict college success, but also to place students in remedial and developmental courses, grant course exemptions, award scholarships, evaluate curriculum in the schools, and compare and assess educational performance at the local, state, and national levels.

Some of these uses are "highly questionable, or just plain wrong," Mr. Stewart has said, citing the use of sat scores to compare the states.

But some other uses of the test are appropriate, he has argued, noting a College Board study showing that 52 percent of responding colleges used the sat for placement and counseling as well as for admissions.

More and Better Information

Testing officials and other educators discussed the reexamination of the test at the College Board's national forum in Washington this month.

The purpose of the Board's "New Possibilities" project--as the examination is being called--is to determine what can be done to provide more and better information from the sat for students, schools, and colleges, officials said.

They stressed that there were no immediate changes planned for the test and that, even after the evaluation, it may remain as it is.

"Nobody should hold their breath for changes in the near future," said Larry H. Litten, senior project director for the College Board. "It's going to be a long and thorough process."

The board is soliciting advice from users of the sat and reactions to field tests of new components being performed by the Educational Testing Service, which administers the test.

Proposed Changes

The three main changes being considered for the test are these:

The introduction of longer reading passages on the verbal portion of the sat That would mean "a larger portion of the verbal section would be focused on critical reading as it is measured in the context of theories of critical-reading skills," said Mr. Litten.

Changes to the math portion of the test, such as a separate test to assess algebra skills, which would help in math placement in colleges and in evaluation of algebra skill levels at the secondary-school level, according to Mr. Litten.

Also being considered is the inclusion of math questions that would require the test-taker to calculate and then write down the answer, rather than select from a multiple-choice offering. Such questions would help defeat sat coaching strategies provided in books and courses designed to boost students' scores.

Such questions, according to Mr. Litten, would "essentially be a more direct measure of students' capacities, but they would possibly reduce some of the test-taking strategy work."

The introduction of an essay segment, which could provide a separate writing score.

College-admissions counselorsand others attending the Board's national forum were receptive to the proposed essay-test idea.

'Very Strong Message'

The board's sat panel "felt the inclusion of a writing test would send a very strong message to the academic community" about the importance of writing skills, said Mr. Pressly. Several educators said the change would motivate high schools to place new emphasis on good writing.

Mr. Litten said that while the College Board's aim is not to influence the curriculum, the addition of an essay "would bring the test closer to items on the educational agenda of the country right now, when there is a substantial concern about writing and critical reading."

According to Mr. Litten, the Educational Testing Service administered 12,000 field tests this fall and will conduct more next spring.

The College Board should decide whether or not to implement any of the proposed changes within 18 months, Mr. Stewart said.

If it decides to, the implementation period would be three to five years, Mr. Litten said.--mw

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