Politics & Government

SAT writing section predicts freshman grades, College Board says

WASHINGTON — The controversial new writing section of the SAT is a better predictor of college freshman grades than its math and critical reading sections, according to findings released Tuesday by the organization that administers the test.

The conclusion by the College Board partially rebuts critics who argue that the writing section isn't a good measure of writing skill and favors women and white students.

Overall, however, the studies found that the new and longer SAT test is no better at predicting success than the old one.

"I think the main point is that both tests are very valid," said Laurence Bunin, senior vice president of operations at the College Board, a non-profit in New York City.

The organization revamped the traditional SAT in March 2005 by adding a new section that included multiple-choice grammar questions and a 25-minute essay. It eliminated analogies and quantitative comparisons from the test and added shorter reading passages.

The test fee went up from $29.50 to $41.50, a $12 increase. The length went up from 3 hours to 3 hours 45 minutes.

The College Board's studies found the new SAT predicted college success better than high school grades for minority students. For white students, high school grades were a better predictor. A large majority — 69 percent — of the sample was white.

The organization examined the test scores of 151,316 students from 110 four-year colleges and universities in the United States.

Males, Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans earned lower GPAs than their SAT scores predicted, the College Board found. Females, Asian Americans and Caucasians did better than their SATs forecasted.

"The SAT is a national fair benchmark at an era where grade inflation at the high school level is a major problem," said Bunin.

Robert Schaeffer, a spokesperson for FairTest, an advocacy group that opposes standardized testing, disagreed. He said that the studies' most important finding was that the more expensive and longer version of the SAT was no better than the old one.

"Their study is a devastating indictment of the new SAT," he said.

Schaeffer predicted that Tuesday's findings would provide more "ammunition" for colleges that are dropping standardized tests as a requirement for admission.

Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said the main value of the SAT's essay portion may be that colleges know that it was written by the student without any assistance.

In a time where parents and consultants often help with college applications, he said, "It provides a proctored sample of the student's writing."


>More on the SAT studies.