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Revised SAT is better grade predictor, study finds

Times Staff Writer

The addition of a mandatory writing section to the SAT three years ago slightly improved the exam’s ability to predict academic success for college freshmen, according to a report by the test’s owner.

The study, sponsored by the College Board, also found that scores from the new writing section were somewhat better at predicting grades in the first year of college than the other two SAT sections.

The best predictor of all is a combination of all three test sections as well as high school transcripts, according to the report released Tuesday.

College Board officials pronounced themselves delighted with the report, saying it proved that the SAT’s changes in March 2005 were fair and academically valid.

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“Now the results are in, and it is clear that the writing section has tremendous value,” College Board President Gaston Caperton told reporters in a conference call Tuesday.

But critics said it was much ado about nothing. They suggested the report was an attempt to deter more colleges from joining the small but growing number of campuses that have dropped the SAT as an admissions requirement.

The marginal improvement in the test’s ability to predict college grades was not worth all the debate, higher fees and extra testing time that came with the 2005 SAT changes, contended Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

“It is not better than the old SAT, and it is no fairer,” said Schaeffer, whose group, based in Cambridge, Mass., opposes most standardized tests.

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Most universities require applicants to take the SAT or its main competitor, the ACT, as a uniform standard in an era of grade inflation and vastly different high school experiences.

The SAT has sections on math and critical reasoning along with the newer writing component, which includes a student-produced essay and multiple-choice questions about grammar.

The test now takes three hours and 45 minutes, which is 45 minutes longer than the old exam, and a perfect score is now 2400, up from 1600. The test-taking fee has risen from $29.50 to $45 over the last three years.

College Board officials said the report was the most comprehensive since the new version was introduced. The study was based on data from more than 150,000 students at colleges and universities across the country.

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The changes were prompted, in large part, by the University of California, the SAT’s biggest customer, which had threatened to drop the test as an admissions requirement. In 2001, then-UC President Richard C. Atkinson criticized the SAT as testing ill-defined notions of aptitude and said it was unfair.

Besides the new writing section, the revisions also toughened up the math component with more advanced algebra questions and eliminated verbal analogy questions.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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