Reaction from Maryland educators and civic leaders to news of a forthcoming revision in the Scholastic Aptitude Test -- that rite of passage for college-bound high school seniors -- ranged yesterday from optimism to wait-and-see.
"I think they've taken very positive steps [toward] bringing the SAT up to date with current thinking in how we should be assessing students," said Steve Ferrara, an assessment specialist with the state Department of Education.
The SAT is used by most colleges as an entrance examination. The revised SAT, or SAT-1, will be in use by the spring of 1994 and will place more emphasis on reading and less on multiple-choice questions, according to an announcement Wednesday by College Board officials in Boston.
Mr. Ferrara said the verbal portion of the test is expected to allow students to engage in critical thinking about opposing points of view.
"It will bring that section of the SAT closer to what we want students to do," he said.
In another revision, the College Board will allow the use of calculators in the math section, a change Mr. Ferrara said seemed reasonable.
"No one in the real world would not use one unless they didn't have access to one," he said. The revised SAT will test how well students do in math by using a calculator and "their own minds," he said.
Anthony Marchione, deputy superintendent for the Baltimore County public school system, said that although he hasn't actually seen the revisions, "they sound promising."
Testing based on critical thinking is more in line with standardized tests that are administered in Maryland, he said.
Mr. Marchione said the current SAT reliance on multiple-choice questions to determine what a student knows is not the best way.
The revised SAT will use a student's "thinking skills," Mr. Marchione said. "I approve of the approach."
A high school guidance counselor for 21 years, Robert Fanto of lTC Dulaney Valley High School said students still feel stress at SAT time. "Heavens yes!" he said. "That has not changed in years and years and years."
The test was in need of "fine-tuning," said Mr. Fanto, who is chairman of Dulaney Valley's guidance counseling department.
"I think it's about time they make a change," he said. "Over the years the test has been fairly decent, but out of date with teacher demands and the students of today."
The guidance counselor called the SAT an important "equalizer" that college admissions officers can use to see what the students know. "But you've got to look at [SATs] with a jaundiced eye," he warned.
Mr. Fanto said he is happy to see the test being revised; he had been concerned that the test might be culturally biased and that some female students were at a disadvantage because they did not take as many math courses as male students.
He is not alone. Over the years, critics have said the same thing.
Freeman Hrabowski, executive vice president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said he was not sure that for minorities and women the results would be "substantially different."
He said he still has doubts that the emphasis will be placed on the "process" of getting the right answer instead of simply coming up with the right answer. "We have to look at the questions and see," he said.
George N. Buntin, executive director of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was cautiously optimistic.
"It's been recognized that [the SAT] has been biased," he said. "Anything they can do to improve it is appreciated."