Scholastic Aptitude Test revised '94 version to lessen multiple-choice focus

November 01, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

BOSTON -- The Scholastic Aptitude Test will undergo a major overhaul by 1994, with more emphasis on reading and less on multiple-choice questions, College Board officials announced FTC yesterday.

However, a controversial proposal to require a written essay as a standard part of the college admission examination was dropped.

Instead, bowing to California educators and Asian-Americans worried about the effect on immigrants, a written essay will replace the multiple-choice English composition achievement test, which is merely supplemental to the regular SAT and is required by far fewer colleges.

In addition, achievement tests for Japanese and Chinese language skills will be added in four years.

The new Scholastic Aptitude Test, to be called SAT-I, will be introduced in the spring of 1994, College Board President Donald M. Stewart said.

In other significant changes, test-takers will be allowed for the first time to use calculators on the SAT math section, and about 20 percent of the math questions will force students to come up with their own solutions without hints from multiple-choice answers.

Such widely detested exercises as choosing a word's opposite meaning will be cut from the verbal section. Overall, the current two-hour SAT may be expanded by as much as 45 minutes.

The reforms are intended to make the tests more relevant to high school learning and to discourage the tricky testing tactics that expensive coaching academies claim to teach.

"Taken as a whole, these changes are designed to send positive signals to our schools, to reinforce sound curricula in the high schools and to help in identifying the abilities and needs of a much more diverse student population," Harvard University President Derek Bok said at a crowded news conference.

Mr. Bok and University of California President David P. Gardner were co-chairmen of the task force that recommended the changes adopted by College Board trustees yesterday. The College Board, a consortium of schools, sponsors the SAT.

Critics long have alleged that the SAT is biased against minorities and women and that private coaching unfairly boosts scores. College Board officials, while contesting those charges, nevertheless said they hoped the revisions would ease the complaints. However, reaction around the country was mixed.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a Massachusetts-based organization highly critical of the SAT, contended that the changes were cosmetic and that they were designed as a marketing tool at a time when the number of college-age students is shrinking.

[FairTest and other critics say the SAT tends to cover subjects that white male and affluent test-takers are more likely to be familiar with, the Associated Press reported.

[Oft-cited examples in the test include the question "Dividends are to stockholders as . . ." with the answer's being "royalties are to writers," and the use of words such as "regatta" and "aria" in the vocabulary section.]

Not all groups were dissatisfied.

The Asian-American Task Force on University Admissions, a California group that raised questions about possible anti-Asian bias in University of California admissions, is "very gratified" about the addition of Chinese and Japanese achievement tests, spokeswoman Kathy Owyang Turner said in a telephone interview from San Francisco.

Korean and Vietnamese tests may be added at a later date, University of California officials said.

University of California leaders had warned the College Board that adding the essay to the main SAT would produce a political firestorm, possibly forcing the vast, multicampus University of California to drop its requirement of the SAT altogether.

In an interview, Mr. Gardner conceded that objections from Californians led to the writing sample's being made into an achievement test instead of part of the regular SAT.

The major modification to the verbal section of the SAT will be adding longer reading passages and more testing of vocabulary in sentences.

Questions to be answered after reading essays or sentences will increase from 40 to as many as 65. Antonyms will disappear but analogies will remain. The number of math questions may drop from 85 to 75.

Last year, 1.75 million students took the SAT. About 2,000 colleges and universities require or strongly recommend the SAT.

The SAT is a rite of passage for high school students, often dreaded for what they see as its influence on their future. But admissions officers and College Board leaders say that SAT scores are just one component of entrance decisions, along with high school grades and activities.

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