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SAT Restructuring Leads Some to Question Scores

September 05, 1996
By: ELIZABETH McKINLEY
State Capital Bureau

Note: See the infobox on Missouri and national SAT scores.

JEFFERSON CITY - If you look at the numbers, you'll see Missouri's SAT test scores are on the rise. High schoolers, who take the college entrance exam, are scoring higher than they have in ten years.

But what the scores don't show is the SAT standardized college admission test was restructured, or "recentered", to make the test more relevant to students.

SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. The test is used to measure verbal and math skills.

Brad Quin, associate director of the SAT, said colleges, students and high school teachers and guidance counselors compare SAT scores of college-bound students with each other and with students from previous years. He said the test should measure how a college freshman will perform during the first year of college.

But Jennifer Marshall from the Family Research Council, a Washington-based non-partisan organization that reviews standardized tests, said the scores don't accurately reflect how students are doing. She said the tests have been restructured to fit a restructured classroom, nullifying the test's objectivity.

"Because the so many changes have been made in the test, we don't know what to attribute these increases to," Marshall said. "That's the problem with major overhauls of standardized tests like these."

Quin agreed that changes have been made in the test, but were necessary because the test had been restructured since 1941.

He argued that the new format has already been adjusted in order to make comparisons with previous years.

Quin said those who question the recentering of the SAT are "political pundits who are lamenting the demise (of the old style test) and can't look beyond their noses."

Jim Freidebach, director of assessment for Missouri Education Department, said one reason SAT scores have risen might be the number of high school student taking core classes -- classes that are designed to prepare students for college. Core courses are recommended, but not required in Missouri schools.

Marshall said that within the last two years, the changes made to the test make it impossible to compare with previous years. She said the College Board and the Educational Testing Service restructured the test to fit the core classes, instead of measuring what a student needs to know to survive in college.

"They've just made the test match those classes," Marshall said.

"We can't say a lot for the increased quality of academic classes in the past few years," she said.

But in Missouri, the SAT test is only taken by a small portion of high school students. Freidebach, with the Education Department, said only 8 to 10 percent take the SAT.

"Students who took the core..., even if they came from a lower socioeconomic group, tended to be able to compete favorably with those of a higher socio-economic group who did not take the core," Freidebach said.

Most Missouri students take the ACT, which is another standardized college admissions test. The University of Missouri system and other colleges in the state accept the ACT scores.

"The ACT is emphasized by high schools and colleges," said Gary Smith, registrar for M.U.

Like the SAT, the ACT is offered nationwide, but has a stronger following in the Midwest. ACT originated in Iowa while SAT originated on the East Coast.

Like the SAT, the ACT admissions test scores have risen, but not as dramatically, Smith said. He said the ACT was restructured to go into more depth on questions than previously. Smith agreed that core classes taken in high school accounts for some of the increase in scores.

The SAT is taken by high school students. The students take two tests: verbal and math. Students can score between 200 and 800 on each test. Collectively, Missouri's average score rose 94 points from last year, and 147 points from ten years ago. Missouri's average score is higher than the national average.