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Copyright 1995 The Baltimore Sun Company The Baltimore Sun

December 12, 1995, Tuesday, FINAL EDITION


LENGTH: 872 words

HEADLINE: Test still takes 3 hours, but has some new looks; English sections, scoring changed

BYLINE: David Folkenflik, SUN STAFF


If you're a high schooler thinking of heading to college, the Scholastic Assessment Test is quite different from the SAT your parents took -- or even the one your older sister took two years ago.

Gone is the test of standard written English. As of March 1994, that has been banished to the SAT II (formerly the Achievement Tests) as too time-consuming. Instead, there's an additional 15-minute section in math, and an additional 15-minute section in English, which involve written answers rather than multiple choice.

The test still takes three hours, and there are still two 30-minute sections of math and two 30-minute sections of English. Unless you've narrowed down possible choices to two answers, you probably shouldn't guess on a question: You'll be marked down a fraction of a point for each incorrect response, but you won't be penalized for no answer. (And yes, if you only sign your name and answer no questions at all, you'll get a 200. But it won't do much good for you.)

Every SAT question -- whether easy or tough -- is given the same weight of points.

Starting this year, however, the test is scored differently. What would have been 700 under the old system, for example, would now be 820. For some schools, that's only a little below average. At campuses like UMBC or the University of Maryland at College Park, entering freshmen averaged 1,093 last year under the old scoring system, according to UM reports.

The NCAA has tightened its academic standards for all students entering after next July. Schools in the NCAA must use a sliding scale of grade-point averages in 13 core courses plus your SAT scores to determine whether you can play ball or not. The general rule requires 820 on the newly recentered SAT and a 2.5 grade-point average. The lower the SAT score, the higher grades required of the student to retain athletic eligibility.

That reform, courtesy of NCAA Proposition 16, came in response to widespread criticism that standardized tests are not the sole, valid way to measure a student's academic potential.

But under the new NCAA system, according to a new U.S. Education Department study, slightly less than half of black college-bound high school students taking the SATs would meet the new requirements. Slightly more than half of Hispanic students would meet that standard, and approximately two-thirds of white and Asian students would.

Over the past 15 years, standardized tests like the SATs have drawn criticism from the likes of Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson for being culturally biased. Thompson has fought Proposition 16, as well as the original Proposition 48 that it replaces.

Sydell Carlton, the senior examiner in test development for the Educational Testing Service, said that every question goes through an elaborate layer of review to see if students from a single minority group miss questions disproportionately when compared to other students who get similar overall scores.

For example, many Latino students selected "grass is to green" as the answer closest to this analogy: "strawberry is to red." The right answer, "lemon is to yellow," baffled some Hispanic students because in many Latin American countries, lemons are green, examiners ultimately concluded. They threw out the question.

Instead of racial bias, education experts said, there is a close correlation between socioeconomic status and scores on the SAT. The College Board says the SAT shows how well prepared a student is for school. And that gives a huge boost to students in suburban schools, which tend to have better-paid teachers, cleaner classrooms and far more educational supplies.

Hispanics and blacks are the most segregated populations in the country, and are concentrated in urban centers, said Reginald Wilson, senior scholar for the American Council on Education. "The schools that they go to are poorer. They have the least-certified teachers, the standards aren't as high, they are lacking in scientific equipment," he said. By contrast, the two racial groups scoring highest are those most suburbanized: Asian Americans and whites. "There's nothing magic about that," Wilson said. "The teachers in the suburbs are better paid, they have better credentials, they care about the degree." Prop 16 standards

The NCAA's sliding scale of core-course grade-point averages and standardized test scores used to determine freshman eligibility:

Qualifier: Can practice, play and receive a scholarship as a freshman.

Former Recentered

   GPA ... ... ... .... SAT ... ... ... SAT

   2.50 .... .... .... 700 .... ... ... 820

   2.40 .... .... .... 740 .... ... ... 860

   2.30 .... .... .... 780 .... ... ... 900

   2.20 .... .... .... 820 .... ... ... 940

   2.10 .... .... .... 860 .... ... ... 970

   2.00 .... .... .... 900 .... ... ... 1010 
Partial qualifier: Can receive a college scholarship, but cannot play as a freshman, losing one of four years eligibility.

Former Recentered

GPA .... .... .... SAT .... .... .... SAT 2.75 .... ... .... 600 .... .... .... 720 2.70 .... ... .... 620 .... .... .... 730 2.65 .... ... .... 640 .... .... .... 760 2.60 .... .... ... 660 .... .... .... 780 2.55 .... .... ... 680 .... .... .... 800