School & District Management

Amid Criticism, College Board Considers Revamping SAT

By John Gehring — April 03, 2002 3 min read
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Leaders of the College Board are considering making changes to the sat, a potential restructuring prompted in part by high-profile criticisms of the test from the president of the University of California system and other college officials around the country who make up its membership.

No specifics about revisions to the college-entrance exam taken by some 1.2 million college-bound seniors last year will be decided until the trustees of the College Board meet in June. But the trustees have already asked the staff of the New York City-based organization for recommendations on revising the test.

According to Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, which sponsors the SAT, the changes would be a significant retooling of the three- hour verbal and mathematics exam.

“We always look at ways we can improve all of our products,” Mr. Caperton said in an interview last week. “It became clear to us that we needed to look at the whole test.”

A revised SAT, he said, would likely require students to write a short essay and answer multiple-choice writing questions. While the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, already requires students to write an essay, the SAT itself does not.

“People realize writing is a critically important part of being successful in college,” Mr. Caperton said.

Other changes could include scaling back or eliminating the often- criticized analogy questions on the test’s verbal section and offering more advanced math questions that gauge problem-solving skills. If approved, the new test would take effect for the graduating class of 2006.

Mr. Caperton, a former West Virginia governor, has consistently defended the SAT as the best common yardstick—when used in combination with other factors such as students’ grades—for admissions officials to use in selecting students for college.

But he said ongoing conversations with college leaders around the country, specifically at the University of California system, had helped speed up discussion about revising the test. Early last month, a UC faculty committee recommended dropping the SAT I in favor of assessments that are more closely aligned with California high school standards.

Both the College Board and officials with ACT Inc., the Iowa-based organization that produces a college- entrance exam taken mainly by students in the middle swath of the country, have been working with the UC system to come up with a test more closely linked with the California’s high school academic standards.

The University of California system, with 178,000 students on 10 campuses, is the largest market for the SAT, which is administered for the College Board by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J. Last year, about 161,000 college-bound California seniors took the test.

In a speech given last year before several hundred top college officials, Richard C. Atkinson, the president of the University of California system, said an overemphasis on the college-entrance test had led to “the educational equivalent of a nuclear-arms race.” His speech also decried students’ reliance on test-preparation courses. (“UC President Pitches Plan to End Use of SAT in Admissions,” Feb. 28, 2001.)

“The University of California is pleased with the direction the College Board seems to be taking,’ said Hanan Eiseman, a spokeswoman for system. “It is a positive development, but it is too early to know if the changes to the SAT I would meet UC’s requirements.”

‘Life’ Achievement

Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College, Columbia University, said he was impressed with the College Board’s willingness to acknowledge the need for a different type of assessment.

“I think this was going to happen anyway, but California provided the kind of pressure to make it happen now,” Mr. Levine said.

While the SAT has been a relatively strong predictor of how students will achieve as college freshmen, he said, a far more comprehensive tool that measures a more inclusive range of skills is needed because a greater percentage of students from diverse backgrounds are going to college today.

“We need a whole new kind of test,” Mr. Levine argued. “What we need now is the kind of test that will predict life achievement.”

The College Board, officials of the organization said, has changed the format and content of the SAT several times since it first offered the test in 1926. Its original name, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, was dropped nine years ago, and it is now known simply by its initials.

In 1993, for instance, antonymns were dropped from the verbal section and replaced with more reading passages. Students were also allowed for the first time to use calculators on the math section.

A version of this article appeared in the April 03, 2002 edition of Education Week as Amid Criticism, College Board Considers Revamping SAT

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