Research in the field of testing has long suggested that students can correctly answer some questions on reading-comprehension tests without having read the passages on which they are based.
Recently, researchers at the College Board, the nonprofit association that administers the S.A.T., studied that phenomenon in relationship to the revised test, which will be administered for the first time in March under its new name, the Scholastic Assessment Test. The researchers, Donald E. Powers and Susan T. Wilson, gave questions from the test without any reading passages to 350 high school juniors. Then they compared their scores with those of 10,000 other students who took the new test as part of a trial in 1990 and 1991.
They concluded that the students in the smaller group did better than they would have answering the questions by chance, but not as well as the test-takers who had read the passages. On some test items, the groups differed by as much as 21 percentage points in the proportion of correct answers given.
Interviewed after the test, half of the participants said the nonreading strategy might help if test time was short. Most, however, recommended reading the passages.
The study is available for $12 plus $3.95 for handling from College Board Publications, Box 86, New York, N.Y. 10101-0886. The item number is 217849.
Although 70 percent of the statewide tests given to schoolchildren are multiple choice, alternative approaches to assessing students are making some inroads into state testing programs.
According to a survey by the Educational Testing Service, 12 percent of statewide tests require students to provide writing samples. Eighteen states are developing short-answer questions for their assessments, and 22 states are working with longer, open-ended questions.
In addition, individual-performance assessments are being used in 14 states, and nine states are using portfolios of student work or learning records to evaluate students.
Despite all that activity, "states do not appear to be acting hastily, however, and show no signs of abandoning their traditional assessment methods,'' say the authors, Paul Barton and Richard Coley.
Copies of the 40-page survey, "Testing in America's Schools,'' are available for $7.50 prepaid by writing the E.T.S. Policy Information Center (O4-R), Rosedale Road, Princeton, N.J. 08541-0001.