U-WIRE: SAT to add writing section

(U-WIRE) Hanover, N.H. – College Board trustees voted Thursday to significantly change the SAT with the goal of allowing the test to better measure in-class learning, though officials at Dartmouth College and elsewhere said the alterations would likely hurt as much as help.

The revisions call for the addition of an essay question, a more challenging math section and the elimination of verbal analogy questions on the college entrance exam taken by more than a million high school students each year.

The revamped test will debut in March 2005 and will raise the top possible score to 2400 from the current 1600, to account for a new handwritten essay section and multiple-choice grammar questions based on the SAT II writing test.

Though University of California President Richard Atkinson recently proposed dropping the SAT as a consideration in college admissions, arguing that it failed to adequately measure learned knowledge, he wrote in a June 27 press release that he was “delighted” with the new changes. Atkinson called the new test “a major event in the history of standardized testing.”

At Dartmouth, however, Dean of Admissions Karl Furstenberg said he was “not convinced” that the new test would measure in-class learning any better than the earlier one, adding that the changes had been made as much for political reasons as out of genuine concern for the fairness of the SAT.

“I think this comes largely as a result of pressure from California,” he said.

“While the addition of the writing test is a good thing, they are also giving up the analogies,” which Furstenberg said are “terribly important” in measuring mastery of vocabulary as well as verbal reasoning and relationships.

Nor did Furstenberg think the changes would make the test less susceptible to the effects of coaching and test preparation, practices which some allege give wealthy students an edge over their less affluent peers.

“I think the coaching services, no matter what test the College Board constructs, will find a way to coach,” he said.

Several questions also remain unresolved, including whether the new writing section will appear on all administered SAT tests, and whether or not the handwritten essays will be submitted to colleges and universities along with the numerical scores.

Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, has maintained that the new test is a fair measure of students’ learning, with inequalities arising only from the varying quality of the American educational system.

Several additional changes will accompany the adjustments to the test format. To cover the added expenditure of grading the essays, the cost of the test will be raised by about $10, while the test will now take more than three-and-a-half hours to complete.

Other changes include a new feedback system, giving test-takers suggestions on particular areas in need of improvement.

-Charles Gardner
The Dartmouth (Dartmouth College)

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