Changes to SAT I Sparks Disparity Debate
First revision in eight years reintroduces the question of bias
By Gabrielle FinleyThe new changes to the SAT I test may create an even larger disparity in test scores among minority and majority students, says an advocacy organization for fair testing.
However, Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, which administers the SAT, says the changes made are “more aligned to the curriculum and state standards of a high school education.”
The changes to the SAT I are basic college success skills of reading, writing and math, Caperton says. The changes to the test, which will go into effect by March 2005, are the first revisions in eight years when the use of calculators were encouraged and open-ended math questions were introduced.
Caperton says the addition of the writing test, which will become a mandatory part of the test, is a reflection of what needs to improve in the education system.
“We know students need to improve their writing…it [the writing test] will have a large impact on American education,” Caperton says.
The writing test will be based on a 200-800 point scale and add an additional 30 minutes to the three-hour exam time, and along with the other changes, will add an additional $10 to $12 to the current price of the $26 test.
FairTest, a national fair and open testing advocacy organization that opposes the use of standardized testing, says the writing test is unfair to students whose native tongue is not English.
“The test serves as a gatekeeper to minority and low-income students. None of the revisions will change this. It may make it worse,” says Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest. “For kids whose first language is not English, including a timed essay is a problem because students have to transfer from the mother tongue to English. A 25-minute timed essay is difficult also for kids whose first language is English. Many students will only have a rough draft in that time,” Schaeffer adds.The question of bias
Last year, African American students’ average SAT verbal score was 433 and the average math score was 426. Comparatively, White students’ average SAT verbal score was 529 and the average math score was 531 (see Black Issues, Sept. 27, 2001).
In a statement made last year, Caperton defended the combined 201-point gap between minority students and majority students’ SAT scores.
“The score gaps for different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups that we see on the SAT also appear on virtually every measure of achievement, including other standardized tests and classroom grades, and they show up as early as fourth grade,” Caperton said. “These differences are a powerful illustration of a persistent social problem in our country: inequitable access to high-quality education.”
Schaeffer says the SAT I also adds to the inequity in scores among minority and majority students.
“Anyone can see that education is not equal. Anyone who says that it is, is blind. A test adds to the inequity. Just because a kid has a low or moderate score doesn’t mean they can’t perform well in college. The SAT makes the inequity worse,” Schaeffer says.
The College Board promotes the use of SAT I scores as one of many variables used for college admission, not as a sole requirement for admission.
Schaeffer pinpoints organizations and scholarships that use SAT scores as a scale of eligibility and scholarship requirements.
“The NCAA especially uses cut-off scores for eligibility. The National Merit Scholarship uses PSAT [a test that is used to get students familiar with the SAT I test] scores for scholarships, which is wrong. They [College Board] don’t care how the scores are used. They sell a product. There are certain schools that won’t take you unless you have a minimum score. They don’t do anything to stop test score abusers,” Schaeffer says.
Leaving the SAT behind
Nearly 400 undergraduate institutions stand behind FairTest, including private colleges such as Bates and Mount Holyoke as well as large public universities such as the University of Texas at Austin. These colleges do not consider SAT I scores in their admissions process.
Many people say revisions were made to the SAT I to gain the approval of the University of California Board of Regents. Richard Atkinson, the president of the UC system, questioned the legality of the SAT I last year and made suggestions that the system drop the test (see Black Issues, March 15, 2001). In 1998-1999, approximately 540,000 of the nearly seven million SAT I test score packages sent to colleges for admissions purposes are sent to the UC system.
Caperton says the UC system played a small role in the College Board’s decision to revise the SAT I, but maintains that they have considered revising the SAT I since the early 1990s. “Their [UC Board of Regents] speech speeded up the process of what we needed to do. They were definitely catalysts,” Caperton says, adding that the new SAT I test gives students an educational standard to apply to their education.
Richard Atkinson agrees. “…The new test will reinforce K-12 improvement efforts designed to establish clear curricular expectations, set high academic standards, and use standardized tests to assess performance relative to those standards.”
But according to Schaeffer, the new SAT I test is just a recycled product. “It’s largely about a repackaged product to receive sales. The changes fail to recognize biases, lack of predictive value and the susceptibility to coaching. The changes are not significant.”
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