Repugnant Is to Aversion ... a Look at ETS and the New SAT I

Article excerpt

It is too soon to say whether or not the new SAT is blazing a trail toward the future of assessment, Mr. Smith declares. But at the very least, taking the SAT will remain one experience about which both parents and children can commiserate.

FOR MORE THAN a decade I have been helping high school students prepare for college entrance exams. Together, we have reviewed basic formulas of high school mathematics, struggled with the word problems that appear on the exam, memorized lists of vocabulary words needed for certain parts of the verbal section, and practiced coping with the strenuous time limits of the test. As always, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the College Entrance Examination Board have helped me with my task by publishing collections of previously administered exams.[1] It is very satisfying to see students come to "understand" this exam well enough to achieve scores that help them gain admission to the colleges they choose.

Thus it was with much anticipation that I followed the recent changes occurring with one of my favorite entrance exams. Not only did the name change (from Scholastic Aptitude Test to Scholastic Assessment Tests and, finally, to SAT I: Reasoning Test), but also, according to the College Board, the test itself was changing: "A completely redesigned SAT will be administered beginning in the spring of 1994."[2] As my students and I were preparing for the first administration of the "new SAT" on March 19, we considered with some trepidation the words of the College Board: "Developed jointly by the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, the revised SAT contains content and format changes necessary to ensure a valid measure of students' academic preparedness for college work throughout the 1990s and beyond."[3]

I know that the College Board and ETS have not ventured into this new endeavor by accident; their literature informs us that "three years of extensive research and field testing" preceded the 1990 approval of the new format by the College Board trustees.[4] The College Board also adopted a recommendation of its own Commission on New Possibilities for the Admissions Testing Program that it "adapt its tests so that they assess a greater variety of skills and knowledge and thereby serve a wider range of needs."[5] The College Board was thus displaying not only its flexibility but also its prescience: "The revised SAT recognizes the increasing diversity of students in our educational system, as well as changes in how and what these students are being taught in secondary school. The new testing program will assess many of the skills important to students' success in college."[6]

Wanting to maintain my own erudition in the face of my students' demands to know how to prepare for this new exam, I scrambled for information. Once again, the College Board facilitated my task. For the past year it has been publishing a newsletter on the new SAT, which describes the changes. Furthermore, it distributed to guidance counselors, teachers, and educators a preview of the upcoming test, titled The New SAT I: Reasoning Test.[7] My Comments below are derived from an analysis of this booklet and from statements in the College Board newsletter.

The College Board states that the new SAT gives students more time to answer questions. According to one issue of the newsletter, "The primary benefit is that students will have more time to think about the questions in both the verbal and math sections."[8] Since time pressure has been reduced, students should feel more comfortable with the exam: "The less speeded test should also reduce student anxiety."[9] In my opinion, having more time per problem would be a tremendous advantage on this test, because students often feel that they must race through the exam in order to attempt all the problems. So how much time are we talking about? On the old SAT verbal sections, students had 60 minutes to complete 85 problems, an average of . …