Boldly going where no SAT has gone before

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    SUSSEX COUNTY-An analogy is to the new Scholastic Aptitude Test as Pete Rose is to ______________: a) badly produced infomercials, b) the 3,000-hit club, c) the Baseball Hall of Fame. If you answered "c" you would be well on your way to understanding one of the key changes to the SAT being initiated this month. Due to mounting university and public sector pressure, the College Board announced major changes to the format and scoring of the SATs that go into effect this month. The test is a staple for any college-bound high school junior or senior. A perfect score will no longer be 1,600, but, due to the addition of a writing section, 2,400. There are now three sections on the test instead of two: Math, Critical Reading (formerly known as the Verbal), and Writing. Total test time has increased as well. The students will be face-to-face with the test for 50 more minutes than in previous tests, for a total of 3 hours and 45 minutes. "The biggest downside is the extended time, especially for kids who have attention problems," said Sharon Smith, director of guidance at Pope John XXIII High School in Sparta. "It's going to become more like a test of endurance." Missing from the new test are the classic quantitative analysis math questions. These are the questions in which there are two columns, one marked with an "x" and the other with a "y." The test-taker is asked to compare the two and pick a correct analysis from one of the choices. These have been replaced by questions that reflect that the student has finished three years of high school math. Also gone are the analogies, which had enjoyed a love/hate relationship with test-takers for as long as the test had been administered. Educators and the College Board alike found flaws with the use of analogies as a measure of potential success in college and the world beyond. The writing section, in which the student has to produce a response to a statement or position, has been inserted as a better method to judge the same criteria as the analogies once did. In addition to the writing, each student will have to improve incorrect sentences and paragraphs and fix grammatical errors in individual sentences. "It's a good call to classrooms to incorporate more writing into your classes. I don't think that's a bad thing," said Smith. Students could have seen this coming. As far back as 1990, the College Board and its group of 4,500 professionals and universities issued statements concerning the validity of the analogies, favoring writing as a more effective tool for judging college success. Technology, however, constrained the ability of the College Board to score the essays in a timely manner. The College Board now has the technology to move forward. "Colleges and businesses alike have raised concern over the quality of writing of their students and employees," said Caren Scoropanos, a public relations liason for the College Board. "This sends a strong message about the importance of writing." Leading university officials echo Scoropanos' statement. "We view the writing component as an important addition to those factors evaluated beyond the high school grade point average, not as a substitute for any of those factors," said John J. Romano, Dean of Enrollment Management and Administration at Pennsylvania State University. Said Harvard University Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons: "The symbolic importance of stressing writing on the SAT is critical. I think it will lead to real reform." Locally, several educators and guidance counselors are well ahead of the changing test. Ray Newman of TestBright, an SAT coaching business in Sparta, has helped students prepare for this test in its old format and the upcoming new format. "They wanted to give more weight to the writing because so many students have difficulty writing and finding grammatical errors in writing," he said. "There are eight major grammatical errors that we prepare students to recognize." Student feedback, said Pope John's Smith, has been positive in some regards. According to students she has spoken to, the changes in the math section all come at the end of the sections, where time will preclude poorer math students from reaching them anyway. "And on the SAT, you are not scored on questions you do not answer," she added. The intention of redesigning the test was to more closely align the SAT with what the students are learning in high school. Additionally, the test is used by universities to determine potential for success in college. Scoropanos said this new test does this better than any of its predecessors. There is some disagreement in the educational community as to whether there is validity in that idea. "This version is no more valid than it ever was before," said Smith. "The test measures potential, not drive. If you have a C average in high school, but score high on your SAT's, does that make you a better candidate than someone who has an A average but does not score well on the test? I think colleges will look towards the A student first." "It's an inappropriate test. It is an overstatment that it representes three years of math covered in high school," said Newman. "It's an inappropriate test if you are looking at the whole curriculum of high school. Most colleges are trying to build their reputations by taking the highest scorers possible, but colleges should be open to meet the needs of all students who are willing to attend."