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New, old SATs alike in predicting grades

Test was revised to better match school curricula

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Brian Kladko
Bloomberg News / June 18, 2008

Expanding the SAT, the most widely used US college entrance exam, made little difference in its power to predict grades, a study found, giving ammunition to critics who seek to minimize use of the test.

The New York-based College Board, which owns the test, released the study yesterday showing that the current SAT rated 0.53 on a measure of predictive ability, compared with 0.52 for the previous version. A result of 1 would mean the test perfectly predicts college performance. Revising the SAT "did not substantially change" its capacity to foretell first-year college grades, the research found.

The College Board, a nonprofit membership association, made the exam longer in 2005 by adding a writing section, inserting questions on higher-level math, and removing analogies.

Testing time grew to 3:45 from 3 hours, and the fee rose 41 percent. A critic of the SAT and other exams said test-taking ability doesn't translate into academic success.

"Meet the new test - it's the same as the old test, but longer and more expensive," said Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, in a telephone interview. The organization, known as FairTest, is based in Cambridge.

Since the new SAT was introduced, 41 schools have stopped requiring applicants to submit standardized-test scores. Last month, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., became the highest-rated national university to join that group, Schaeffer said.

Wake Forest is ranked number 30 in US News & World Reports magazine's national rankings, led by Princeton University. A total of 760 accredited four-year schools don't require test scores, Schaeffer said.

The SAT, which now costs $45, was taken by 1.5 million members of the high school class of 2007, with 1.3 million taking another exam, the ACT, owned by the nonprofit Act Inc. in Iowa City, Iowa.

The College Board had said the SAT changes were meant to make the test "more closely aligned with current high school curricula."

The alterations were made after the University of California system, based in Oakland, proposed replacing the SAT with an exam more closely tied to the state's high school requirements.

The College Board also had said in a publication that the writing section, by adding another element to the verbal and math scores, "can be expected to have greater predictive power of a student's probable success."

While the predictive power changed little, the study affirmed the validity of the test, according to the College Board.

The study showed the SAT predicts college success almost as well as four years of high school grades, said Laurence Bunin, the College Board's senior vice president of operations, in a telephone interview..

The new writing section, which requires students to compose an essay and answer multiple-choice questions, also has led to a greater attention to writing by high school students and teachers, he said.

Of the three SAT sections, the new writing test was best able to foretell college grades, with a so-called correlation coefficient of 0.51, compared with 0.48 for critical reading and 0.47 for math, according to the study.

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