Change in sight for Scholastic Aptitude Test

September 27, 1990|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- The Scholastic Aptitude Test, the college-entrance exam millions of teen-agers take each year, may be significantly changed for the first time in 50 years.

Trustees of the College Board, which administers the national test, were to meet in New York today and tomorrow to consider restructuring the exam, in a move to make it harder to coach students for the test and to make the exam more attuned to schoolwork.

Although the specific proposals are secret, some board members disclosed that they include introducing more essay-type questions, allowing students to use calculators and adding mathematics problems without multiple-choice answers.

Other suggestions include adding a writing portion to the exam, which would be graded separately.

College Board officials said that if any changes were approved, they would be field-tested in the next few years and would not appear on all tests until 1993.

The SAT, taken by 1.3 million high school juniors and seniors each year, is a two-part examination that tests mathematical and verbal skills. Each portion is graded on a scale ranging from 200 to 800 points.

The average national scores last year were 484 in mathematics and 427 on the verbal section.

"We are reviewing the testing instrument, given the changes in the United States student population," said Alice Cox, incoming chairwoman of the College Board's board of trustees.

That population is becoming increasingly black and Hispanic, and more students have limited English skills, according to Ms. Cox, assistant vice president of academic affairs at the University of California.

In the last decade, the SAT, used by thousands of colleges and universities, has been criticized for being culturally biased toward white, middle-class students.

Those who teach SAT-taking techniques said that although the College Board may try to avoid coaching, any standardized test is coachable.

"All that will happen is that we will change the coaching," said Walter Beard, a Philadelphia mathematics teacher who runs SAT preparatory classes across the city.

He said the SAT was so unlike regular schoolwork that students must learn special test-taking skills to do well. "It's become something unto itself," he said.

Denny Wolf, a Harvard University researcher who doubts the validity of standardized tests,

Said the test still would be coachable, because the proposed changes -- even the writing sample -- would not alter its format drastically. "You can bet there will be a Stanley Kaplan office open the next day, ready to coach writing and open-ended questions," she said.

Mr. Kaplan founded a popular chain of SAT coaching schools.

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