The trustees of the College Board, the organization that administers the Scholastic Assessment Test, have voted to modify the SAT I exam for the 2005-06 academic year.
The most significant change to the SAT I is the addition of a new section, the SAT Writing Exam, which will include multiple choice grammar questions and a written essay. The SAT Verbal section will become the SAT Critical Reading Exam and will no longer include analogy questions. Instead, short reading passages will be added to the current long reading sections. The SAT Math segment will be changed to cover algebra II, in addition to geometry and algebra I.
“At UC, we think the SAT I is going to be a better test because it’s going to have the inclusion, for the first time, of an important writing section, a stronger math section, and more critical reading. The link to the curriculum, we feel, is very important, and we’re pleased that they’re going to [change the SAT I]. This is a major step, and we think it is a very positive step,” said University of California Media Coordinator for Admissions, Hanan Eisenman.
The philosophy behind aptitude testing such as the SAT I is to get a measure of a student’s innate, or “natural,” ability to learn. By contrast, achievement tests such as the American College Test and SAT II are meant to examine a student’s achievements and understanding in a particular subject studied in high school.
“We felt that moving the SAT I more toward achievement would allow us a better perspective on our applicants,” said Eisenman.
University of California President Richard Atkinson recommended in February 2001 that the UC no longer use the SAT I for admission into the UC system.
“Aptitude tests such as the SAT I have a historical tie to the concept of innate mental abilities and the belief that such abilities can be defined and meaningfully measured. Neither notion has been supported by modern research,” said Atkinson in December 2001. “Few scientists who have considered these matters seriously would argue aptitude tests such as the SAT I provide a true measure of intellectual abilities.”
Atkinson said he is pleased with the College Board’s decision to modify the SAT I.
“It marks a major event in the history of standardized testing. I give enormous credit to the College Board and to its president, Gaston Caperton, for the vision they have demonstrated in bringing forward these changes and for their genuine commitment to improved educational attainment in our nation,” he said.
Although the College Board has decided on the broad changes that it would like to see in the SAT I, there are still many specifics that need to be ironed out.
“The [UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS)] committee, through the UC’s Academic Senate, [will be] collaborating with the College Board and the ACT … to develop a test that reflects the specification that BOARS and UC have been asking for earlier this year,” said Eisenman.
BOARS – a UC Academic Senate committee and a system-wide body comprised of faculty members responsible for all academic decisions – unanimously endorsed the continued use of standardized tests in the UC admissions process in May 2002. However, it also recommended a new statement of principles to guide the selection of admissions tests. Specifically, BOARS recommends that “tests used by UC should measure a student’s level of achievement in mastering the college preparatory curriculum in high school,” instead of a student’s aptitude.
“[It will] move it over to where we’re looking more at the actual record of accomplishment students have made through their high school careers,” UC Santa Barbara Academic Senate chair Richard Watts said.
However, not all believe that the College Board’s changes will have a positive effect on the admissions process.
“I don’t fully agree [that the College Board] changed [the SAT I] to what the University of California wanted; I think what they have done is change it so that certain people in the University are placated,” former UC Student Associate chair Kenneth Burch said. “[The College Board] is changing the test because they got the message loud and clear that if they didn’t make certain changes, the University would most likely stop using the test.”
Approximately 90,000 students apply each year to the UC, and all applicants are required to take the SAT I and II. The UC’s applicants make up the largest pool of students who take the SAT I.
“I think what the SAT modifications did is they just took the core of Atkinson’s idea and modified it a little bit so the UC wouldn’t pull out of the SAT I,” said current University of California Student Association Chair Steven Class.
“The fundamental way they create the test has not been changed because there will be nothing changed about the results of the test,” Burch said.
“We supported BOARS’ principles, but we always agreed with the idea that the SAT I should be dropped unless it was fundamentally changed,” Burch said. “As far as whether or not we believe the new SAT will fit those principles, I would argue that it most likely will not. It comes back to the fact that it’s not measuring achievement and that it’s statistically driven.”
“I think no one at this point understands whether or not this is going to have any huge impact on the final product, but philosophically, it will be a switch over from the idea that somehow you’re born with an ability to learn, which is technically what student aptitude test stands for,” Watts said.
ACT, Inc., the other aptitude testing heavyweight, will also offer an optional writing component to the ACT beginning in the 2004-05 school year. The writing component will not be mandatory and it will be left to colleges and universities to decide whether or not to require it.
The new admissions test proposal is likely to be presented to the regents sometime during the 2002-03 academic year, but no formal date has been set, said Eisenman. The regents must ultimately approve the new test for it to affect future UC admissions.