Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

SAT `Recentering': Percentiles and Rankings Will Not Change

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

SAT `Recentering': Percentiles and Rankings Will Not Change

Article excerpt

SAT 'Recentering': Percentiles and Rankings Will Not Change.

by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

When high school students receive their scores on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) next spring, the numbers are likely to seem more impressive than in the past.

But the higher numbers will not reflect any increase in student performance. The students will be among the first class of test takers to be graded according to a new scale that will raise the average score to 500.

The "recentering" of SAT scores will boost the current average of 424 points on verbal and 478 on math to the middle mark on the 200 to 800 point scale. The difficulty of exam questions, however, won't change. Although the scores for most students will go up -- most will see a nearly 80-point jump on verbal and up to a 30-point difference on math -- the percentile and ranking of the students will not change.

"We will maintain the high standards of the test; that will not change. What will change are the numbers that define that standard," said Dr. Donald Stewart, president of The College Board.

The change in the scoring system is being made by the Board to clear up confusion among students and parents about what is considered an average score, to make it easier to compare verbal and math scores, and to account for a drastically different group of collegegoing students than the original cohort in 1941.

"The presence of college counselors in many schools is disappearing. Students are left to interpret scores on their own," said Shirley Binder, a College Board trustee and the director of admissions and records at the University of Texas at Austin.

Change in Test Takers

The 1941 group of 10,000 test takers half a century ago was dominated by upper-middle class whites, more than 60 percent of them men. Most of the students during that war year were graduates of prestigious prep schools who were taking the test to gain admission to exclusive private universities.

The current scale was created according to the original group's performance on the test. Those who scored in the middle of the group on the math and verbal portions were awarded 500 points for each section. The lowest score was 200; the highest, 800. When charted, the distribution of the scoring formed an almost perfect bell-shaped curve. All test takers since 1941 have been given scores in comparison to that reference group.

Today, students taking the SAT each year number more than 1 million, and are much more racially and culturally diverse and balanced along gender lines. The bell-shaped distribution has become lopsided, with more students falling below the 500 mark than above it.

The students who took the test in 1990 will be used as the new reference group, and will remain the norm until it is determined that the test takers are no longer represented by the group. The new system will go into effect with the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) given to high school juniors next October, with the SAT set to be administered next April.

The change will affect both the new SAT I, the reasoning test with an increased emphasis on critical reading and written responses, and the SAT II optional subject tests. These tests replaced the traditional SAT -- which was strictly multiple choice questions -- earlier this year.

Raising Minority Scores

The new scale is expected to increase slightly the number of Black and Hispanic students who score above average on the test, although the mean scores of these groups will still be below average. …

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