SAT Statistics Look Deceiving : Testing: Scores will be adjusted and qualifying number will be more than 800.


As if the NCAA’s new academic requirements for freshmen eligibility were not difficult enough to digest, high school athletes are about to face more confusion than the most vexing problem on their Scholastic Assessment Tests.

Although it was all but ignored at the recent NCAA Convention in San Diego where revised eligibility rules were adopted, the SAT’s scoring system has been changed.

All the numbers and cutoff points NCAA delegates discussed will be obsolete April 1. Put simply, a 700 will no longer represent the minimum qualifying score allowed on the SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. A student might need to score between 810 and 830, although the number of correct answers probably would be the same as the current 700.

This adds up to nothing less than a statistical nightmare for the NCAA and those athletesstill trying to qualify this spring.

“To suddenly change it leaves these athletes and the NCAA totally confused,” said Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass., advocacy group that opposes standardized testing.


The adjustment on the college entrance test was made to help students better understand where they rate when compared to the average.

The SAT is graded on a scale of 200 to 800 in the verbal and math sections. By adjusting the point system, the 50th percentile or average score will be rounded off at 500 in both sections.

That was the average in 1941 when 10,000 students first took the test. But over time, it dipped to 424 for verbal, 478 for math.

When the College Board last year introduced a new test, SAT I, it decided to wait before re-centering the mean, not wanting to institute too many changes at once.

Still, officials are bracing for many questions. They hope to mollify people by explaining that recalibrated higher scores do not mean the test is easier.

“You’re not gaining anything from it,” said Fred Merino of the College Board, which oversees the SAT. “Are more athletes going to qualify on a re-centered scale? It shouldn’t make any difference.”

It is not expected to have a major impact, other than confusing everyone who has come to view the 700 minimum as the bar that needs to be cleared.

With more than 30 combinations adding to 700, the NCAA must find a reasonable equivalent cutoff for three spring tests.

The old combinations of 700 will convert to scores from 750 to 830 in the new system. For instance, a student who scored 500 verbal and 200 math under the old system would total 780 with the re-centered formula. And although it represents 80 more points, it probably will be below the new minimum. If a student scored 200 verbal and 500 math, the recalibrated score would be 750, again too low to qualify.

“It’s further proof that the (NCAA is) passing legislation when (it) doesn’t know its implications and hasn’t thought it through,” Schaeffer said.

Actually, the NCAA Council has been debating the perplexing situation since summer. It is relying on the Academic Requirement Committee to help determine equivalents to the old scores.Jerry Kingston, committee chairman, said the new cutoff will probably be between 810 and830.

Once that is determined, the committee must devise a new scale for qualifying standards that go into effect Aug. 1, 1996. The committee must compute equivalents from the old 600 to 900 scores that will be used to determine partial and full qualifiers under legislation known as Proposition 16.

Under the old numbers, to be eligible in 1996-97, athletes will need a 2.0 grade-point average in 13 college preparatory classes and a 900 SAT or a 2.5 GPA and 700 SAT. They currently need a 2.0 GPA and 700. Partial qualifiers can score as low as 600 on the old system.

Although NCAA officials are confident Kingston’s committee will devise fair and honestequivalents before the April test, many acknowledge that it is going to play havoc on the system.

“Re-centering almost changes the rules of the game in the middle of the game,” said Dennis Farrell, Big West commissioner and member of the NCAA Council.

The situation is one reason the Council supported the NCAA Presidents Commission to delay implementation of the initial eligibility scale for a year. Prop. 16 was adopted in 1992 to go into effect in August. But NCAA members agreed to postpone part of it this month.

They had good reason, considering when the American College Testing exam was re-centered about four years ago, it gave college admissions officers multiple headaches. After reviewing thousands of tests, ACT changed its mean from 15 to 18, saying it was the true equivalent of the SAT’s 700. But within the next two years, it decided that was too high, and dropped it to 17.

Athletes who missed the 18 cutoff by a point and were declared ineligible as freshmen were given another year’s eligibility after the change. Still, some of those athletes lost a chance to attend the schools of their choice because some institutions had refused to accept them with the 17 score.

It is that scenario that leaves the NCAA legislation vulnerable.

Officials are studying results of thousands of students who have taken both tests to determine legitimate SAT equivalents to the ACT’s 17.

Although the College Board said no one will be given an advantage, that is not guaranteed. In 98% of the cases, the same number of correct answers will be needed on both tests to qualify. But for about 2%, there could be a slight advantage, said Kingston, Arizona State’s faculty representative.

Compounding the problem is that eligibility rules allow athletes to combine scores from different tests to reach a minimum total. In other words, they can take a 400 from a previous math test and match it with a 300 in verbal to arrive at 700.

Now, a formula must be derived to convert matching partial scores from tests before April 1 to the re-centered scores. It has left many athletic administrators shaking their heads.

“I’m not sure I grasp it either,” said one NCAA Council member.