SAT scores to increase under new rating system

June 12, 1994|By New York Times News Service

The SAT score of the average U.S. high school student will soon be going up 100 points. But that doesn't mean that anyone is getting smarter.

Beginning in April 1995, the College Board, based in Manhattan, will be recalibrating its scoring of the SAT. The bottom score will still be 200 and the top 800, but it will be easier for everyone to get higher scores.

A 430 score on the verbal section of the SAT will suddenly become a 510 under the new scoring method. A 730 verbal score will become an 800.

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College Board officials know they are opening themselves up to criticism. "The question people will ask," said Bradley J. Quin, a senior project director of the College Board, "is, 'Aren't you just making kids feel better by giving them higher scores?'

"The answer is absolutely, positively not. The performance that generates a 424 today will now generate a 500. The kid is no brighter, doesn't have any more bright answers, it's just the label is higher. Everyone will know."

Mr. Quin said they were making the change so students would have a better sense of what their scores mean. When the current scoring system was established in 1941, 500 was the average score for each test, the math and verbal. Those scores have been declining for decades. The average verbal score today is 424; the average math score, 478.

So the College Board officials have decided to "recenter" the scale, changing it so the average student will once again get scores of 500 in verbal and math.

That means by answering the same number of questions correctly,typical students will get about 80 extra points on the verbal and 20 on the math. For more than half a century, a raw score of 35 on the verbal test of 78 questions has translated into a 430 score; now a raw score of 35 will mean a score of 510. For the raw score, students get one point for each correct answer; they lose a quarter-point for each wrong answer. "This way a student will know if he gets a 510, he's a little above average. A 490's a little below average," Mr. Quin said.

The College Board will be blitzing admissions offices with material about the SAT scoring change.

"A student can't say, 'Oh, after April my score will be higher. I'll take advantage of that,' " Mr. Quin said. "College admissions offices will be well informed about the changes." The College Board will publish conversion tables this summer comparing new and old SAT scores.

When the current norms were established for scoring the SAT in 1941, the world was a very different place. A small group of middle- and upper-class Americans attended college. In 1941, just 10,000 students took the SAT, and 40 percent of them attended private high schools.

Today, 1.2 million take the test, 82 percent of them from public schools.

In 1941, fewer than 1 percent of the test takers were members of minorities and 40 percent were women; today, those numbers are 30 percent and 52 percent.

The officials announced last fall that they would "recenter" the scoring method, but this is the first time they have released specific information about the changes. A news conference will be held tomorrow in Washington to announce the changes.

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