College Board adds written essay, makes other major changes to SAT exam

Thursday, June 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ College Board trustees voted Thursday to add a handwritten essay to the SAT, drop its analogy section and include higher-level math questions in an overhaul following complaints from the exam's biggest customer that it fails to test what students know.

The changes were approved by the board's voting trustees, representing a spectrum of high schools and colleges, during a meeting at the College Board's Manhattan headquarters. The 102-year-old nonprofit owns the SAT.

Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board said in a prepared statement that the changes will ``only improve the test's current strength by placing the highest possible emphasis on the most important college success skills _ reading and mathematics and now writing.''

This is the second major revision in less than a decade to the college entrance exam, taken at least once by 1.3 million of last year's high school graduates. Like that previous reform, the latest version of the SAT is supposed to better reflect classroom learning.

While the College Board maintains that improving the SAT is a constant effort, the makeover follows highly publicized doubts about the SAT's value raised by Richard Atkinson, president of the 170,000-student University of California system. At one point, Atkinson proposed dropping the exam as a requirement for undergraduate admission.

The current exam is three hours and mostly multiple choice. Its two sections, math and verbal, are each graded on a scale of 200-800 points.

Changes in the exam, to be introduced in March 2005, include:

_ Adding a third, writing section with a 25-minute essay question and multiple choice grammar-usage questions modeled on the current SAT II writing test, introduced in the 1990s.

Also scored on a 200-800 scale, the new section will boost the top SAT score to 2,400. Each student's essay will be read and scored, then scanned onto a Web site for college admissions officials to read.

_ Renaming the verbal section ``critical reading,'' and dropping analogies while adding more, shorter prose passages to test reading ability. The passages will be from various academic disciplines, such as science, history and literature.

_ Adding to the math section, over a period of years, questions from third-year high school math, specifically algebra II, and dropping quantitative comparisons, such as asking a test-taker to use an algebraic equation to compare the volumes of similar geometric objects.

The new test will take up to 3.5 hours to complete and cost about $10-$12 more than the $26 it will be this fall, though low-income students will continue to be eligible for a fee waiver. The test will also include a feature to provide test-takers feedback on skills that need improving.

Details will be worked out as the changes are developed by Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., the nonprofit contractor that designs and administers College Board exams.

In early 2001, Atkinson, a research psychologist, told national higher education leaders the SAT fails to measure what applicants actually learn in school. He also proposed that the UC's eight undergraduate campuses stop requiring the SAT for admission.

The UC Board of Regents ultimately decided to see if the new SAT meets the system's needs.

Outside Thursday's meeting, a few students protested against the exam.

Josh Fisher, an 18-year-old student at New York University, said the SAT revisions are just ``cosmetic,'' and don't solve the problem that dependence on testing stifles diversity and creativity on campuses.

``I don't think I should be judged by a number,'' Fisher said.

Among 2001 high school graduates, 1.3 million took the SAT at least once, many repeatedly. In the school year ending June 2001, 2.3 million SATs were taken.

Makers of the rival ACT, taken by nearly 1.1 million 2001 graduates nationwide, assert that their exam already tests what students have learned. But earlier this year, the nonprofit Iowa company said it would include an essay question for applicants to California universities _ and possibly begin adding it nationwide later.

Along with high school grades, the SAT is supposed to predict academic performance the first year of college. Critics have long assailed the SAT as unfair, saying it tends to favor students who have wealthier families, attend better schools or have access to test-preparation courses and tutors.

In the 1990s, the SAT underwent its first major remodeling in two decades. On its debut in 1994, the College Board said the new SAT would do better at testing classroom curriculum and critical thinking. In 1995, SAT scoring was ``recentered'' to better reflect the diversity of test-takers.

FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass.-based group that advocates less reliance on testing, says 391 schools out of the nation's 1,788 four-year institutions do not require entrance exams, or exempt some applicants because of high class rank or grades.