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College Board Trustees Postpone Vote on S.A.T. Revision

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Trustees of the College Board last month postponed a vote on a proposal to make sweeping changes in the Scholastic Aptitude Test, sending mixed signals to those who expected the trustees to adopt the revisions.

Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, said the board declined to vote on the changes because the trustees needed additional information.

"It would have been a bit premature to make a decision," he said.

The 24-member Board of Trustees of the College Entrance Examination Board, or College Board, was scheduled to vote on the board's "New Possibilities" project at its Sept. 27-28 meeting in New York.

The College Board decided two years ago to launch the project to determine what could be done to provide more and better information from the sat for students, schools, and colleges. (See Education Week, Nov. 16, 1988.)

Serving as advisers to the board and recommending changes in the sat has been a commission of educators, led by Derek Bok, president of Harvard University, and David P. Gardner, president of the University of California.

Among the proposed changes that have been made public over the past two years is a plan to introduce a written essay exam and a writing score (s.a.t.-w). The commission has also proposed that many mathematical multiple-choice questions be replaced with student-generated answers and that more emphasis be put on reading interpretation.

Board officials have said they hoped the changes would reduce students' reliance on test coachers.

"The test should be more like what kids are doing in school," Fred Moreno, a spokesman for the College Board, said in explaining the proposed changes. "Not the curriculum, but the tasks."

The trustees, who range from high-school counselors to university admissions officials to community-college presidents, either declined to talk about the recent meeting, deferred to Mr. Stewart, or refused to return phone calls.

"We don't think it's fair to be in the newspapers before it's decided," said Ivylyn Scott, a trustee who is a counselor at New Canaan (Conn.) High School.

Mr. Stewart said he expects the board to vote on the proposals at its national forum, scheduled for Oct. 31-Nov. 2 in Boston.

Division in the Ranks?

The secretive stance of the trustees and the College Board over the proposals has led critics of the sat at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing to speculate that the inaction at last month's meeting illustrates a division within the trustee ranks and among the commission that developed the proposals.

"A month ago, I thought it would just be rubber-stamped through," said Sarah Stockwell, a center official who monitors the nation's major college-admissions tests. "But just in the last month ... we've found out about the internal turmoil."

Ms. Stockwell contended that the proposed revisions are simply cosmetic changes intended to mollify anxious educators, and that they do nothing to purge the bias against minorities and women inherent in the test.

Mr. Moreno said criticism such as Ms. Stockwell's is "the same old argument that I have been battling for five years."

He said such criticism is "premature" because the trustees have not made a decision on the changes.

The proposed changes--particularly the written-essay requirement--have come under severe criticism this year from California education and legislative officials who say the revisions will adversely affect recent immigrants and students whose native language is not English.

"I want to emphasize that I cannot in good conscience support the sat-w, even in principle," Patrick Hayashi, a commission member and associate vice chancellor for admissions and enrollment at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote to Mr. Gardner in August.

"I believe the College Board has done an abysmally poor job in examining the possible effects on non-native speakers," he wrote. "I am also disturbed that my repeated requests for a special briefing paper on the sat-w have been ignored."

Meanwhile, a California legislative committee is holding hearings later this month to determine if using the sat as a standard for college eligibility is necessary.

Most colleges use either the sat or the American College Testing Program exam as a predictor of academic success in college. About 1.75 million students took the sat last year, compared with the 1.3 million students who took the act.

The current sat exam is divided into verbal and math sections, each with scores ranging from 200 to 800.

If approved, the proposed changes, which have already been field tested on more than 100,000 students, would take three years to implement.

It is not clear how much the revisions would cost, Mr. Stewart said, adding that that is one of the issues the trustees are debating.

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