TOPICS > Education

New SAT to Debut for Nation’s High School Students

March 10, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


ADAM MAZE: Let’s talk about pacing and this gets into some basic strategy concerns.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: These Chicago high school students have come to a test prep course designed by the Kaplan Company to find out what they will face when they take the newly revised SAT test.

The old math and verbal sections have both been transformed, and for the first time the SAT will contain a two-part writing section.

ADAM MAZE: Again, this is the part of the SAT that is entirely new.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Instead of the analogies featured on the old test, one part of the writing test will be a multiple-choice test on grammar and sentence structure; the second part, a written essay.

ADAM MAZE: One essay scored on a zero to six scale that represents one-third of the writing portion of the new SAT

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Students will have 25 minutes to write a response to a prompt that describes an issue. The College Board gives this sample question.

“Assignment: Are people motivated to achieve by personal satisfaction rather than by money or fame? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience or observations.”

Readers hired by the College Board, mostly high school and college English teachers, will have two to three minutes to score the student essays.

STUDENT: I’m a little bit worried about the essay, even though I don’t really have any problems with my writing. I just want to get some experience with it.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: James Montoya is vice president of the College Board, the not-for-profit association that owns and administers the SAT test that 1.4 million students take as part of the college admissions process.

JAMES MONTOYA: Each essay will be read by two readers. Each will be scored on a scale of one to six.

What will happen is that if indeed there is more than a one point differential in the scoring, it will go to a third reader, just to ensure fairness and the most thoughtful evaluation possible.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The new math section on the test eliminates quantitative comparisons and includes multiple choice questions from Algebra I courses, Geometry courses, and for the first time, questions like this one from third-year college prep Algebra courses.

JAMES MONTOYA: This is the biggest change in the last decade. It was the mid-’90s when we saw the last big change.

As I meet with students, as I meet with parents to talk about the test, what I’m able to assure them is that the test is not harder, it’s just different.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: High school counselors also have been trying to reassure students that the new SAT will not be more than they can handle. The reaction was mixed from these two Chicago public high school juniors who will take the new test this Saturday.

MALLORY POWERS: I wanted to take the new SAT because the writing was added and they took out analogies, which were one of the hardest things for me to do.

MIA NDRAHT: Obviously you don’t know what the topic to write about is going to be until you’ve got the test.

And I just don’t — and if a topic, you know, if you don’t really know what to say about it, I don’t think that that’s exactly like a fair way to judge you on, you know, if you get a low score on that. I don’t think that’s really fair.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Anxiety over the new SAT has been a boon to the test prep business.

ANDREW LAVOY: For those events that we’ve held where students come to practice test, 78 percent increase just based on, you know, the new tests. So there’s anxiety out there.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Andrew Lavoy says the Kaplan test prep company has poured millions into completely revising their SAT Course in light of the new test.

KAPLAN REPRESENTATIVE: And to answer the questions, what you want to do…

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The Kaplan pitch persuaded 16-year-old Max Caploe, a student at a top college prep public high school in Chicago, that he needed to take the course before he took the new test.

MAX CAPLOE: I’m not very good at test taking, so it’s a lot of pressure for me because there’s a lot of strength on me to do really well in this class from my parents and my family and all that stuff.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: His parents saw the prep course as a way of taking pressure off their son because he would feel better prepared.

MRS. GRENROCK-CAPLOE: He’s a good student, but there’s so much competition, and you always want to get that little extra edge. And, you know, to have prep for him is the best thing we could do.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Daniel Vargas’ parents, who came to Chicago from Puerto Rico, felt the same way.

But it was more of a struggle for the family to come up with almost $1000 for the Kaplan course. But the Vargas’ have always been determined that their two boys would go to college.

JASMINE VARGAS: My husband and I didn’t have the opportunities that they have, you know? So why not just try to give them that leg up?

You know, that’s really all we can do. We’re not rich, we’re not millionaires, we don’t have, you know, anything. All we can give them is just the grounds for a good education.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Montoya, the first in his family to go to college, worries about the sacrifice families like the Vargas’ make to pay for expensive test prep courses.

JAMES MONTOYA: I believe that the claims made by the test prep companies are overblown. As we have moved forward in the development of the new SAT, we have also paralleled that effort in making certain that there is low cost and free test prep.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Students can download a practice test from the College Board Web site or take an online test prep course for $70.

The College Board had been under pressure to revise their SAT test ever since the president of the University of California threatened to drop the SAT four years ago.

RICHARD ATKINSON: The motivation is to have an admissions process that’s perceived as being fair, one that really focuses on testing students on what they’ve studied in high school and where the student and their parents really understand the relationship between that test and the events in high school.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Montoya says the new SAT should fulfill that challenge.

JAMES MONTOYA: We want to make certain that the SAT really helps an admissions office gauge a student’s ability to be successful in college.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But the dean of admissions at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, doesn’t buy it. This small liberal arts college with a little under 1,500 students just announced that it will drop the SAT and go test-optional for revisions next year.

STEVE SYVERSON: It doesn’t add enough to our understanding of the student to justify the amount of stress that the students are undergoing to provide us with that information.

We think what they’ve done over four years in high school is a much better indicator than what they do for three and a half hours on a Saturday morning taking one of these tests.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The University of Chicago will continue to require the SAT, but the dean of admissions, Ted O’Neil, doesn’t think much of the addition of an essay.

TED O’NEIL: I think the current instrument isn’t very good. I think it’s going to be a generic instrument to measure first draft writing in a hurry.

I think it’s going to disadvantage students who are English as second language kids, and I’m afraid it’ll further disadvantage poor kids, who the tests haven’t served very well thus far.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Montoya says over 400 colleges and universities have said they will require college admission tests that include writing scores for the entering class of 2006.

JAMES MONTOYA: We are the first to say that no admission decision should ever be made on the basis of scores alone. But it provides a context and it continues to be a helpful tool.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: For those who do decide to take the new test, they won’t be able to compare scores with their parents and their older siblings; 1,600 is no longer the perfect score. Twenty-four hundred is now the fabled number.