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                  Copyright 1995 The New York Times Company                     
                               The New York Times                               
                  April  2, 1995, Sunday, Late Edition - Final                  
SECTION: Section 1; Page 22; Column 1; National Desk                            
LENGTH: 1127 words                                                              
HEADLINE: S.A.T. With Familiar Anxiety but New (Higher) Scoring                 
BYLINE:  By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN                                                
   After three hours of suffering through the S.A.T. yesterday morning, Isaac   
Hurwitz and Geoffrey Fischer stood near the Tribeca Bridge whooping and         
exchanging high-fives. And for the first time since leaving the testing room at 
Stuyvesant High School in Battery Park City, their classmate Stephanie Xie      
allowed herself a smile.                                                        
   " 'Stalwart' is to 'cause' as 'adherent' is to 'party,' " she rejoiced.      
"Yeah! I had that too!"                                                         
    If they were re-enacting the relief celebrated by millions of high school   
students before them upon completion of the nation's most widely used college   
entrance exam, the three juniors from Hunter College High School, like other    
230,000 students across the country who took the Scholastic Assessment Tests    
yesterday, were leaving a new academic playing field.                           
   Forever, an asterisk will appear next to their scores: the average student   
got an extra 100 points just for showing up yesterday.                          
   The College Board, the New York nonprofit company that oversees the test, has
adjusted its scoring system for the first time since 1941, when the average     
score was 500 math and 500 verbal, the midpoint of the 200-to-800 grading scale.
Since then, scores have steadily declined, to an average of 424 in the verbal   
portion of the test and 479 in the math portion.                                
   College Board officials insist that what looks like old-fashioned grade      
inflation is merely a maneuver that will bring the average scores back to the   
center of the bell curve, the mid-point on a graph of all scores that indicates 
average performance.                                                            
   But for many students the extra points seemed a setup to a cruel April Fools'
Day trick. The test was as grueling as ever and the higher scores will not      
matter when it comes to college admissions.                                     
   "It just went on forever," said Olivia Ng, a junior at Hunter College High   
School in New York, who emerged from the test exhausted, massaging the left side
of her head.                                                                    
   The change, which mostly affects the college class of 2000, has admission    
officers scrambling to figure out how to compare the old scores with the new    
ones. Already, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it is 
raising the minimum requirement for sports eligibility to a combined score of   
820, from 700.                                                                  
   The College Board has sent around a conversion slide rule, a sort of decoder 
ring that translates the new scores to the old. "Its almost as incomprehensible 
as adjusting from Fahrenheit to Celsius," said Delsie Z. Phillips, the director 
of admissions at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.                             
   Only a few students at test centers around the country yesterday said they   
knew about the scoring change. "I read on the test that it was being recentered,
but I didn't know what that meant," said Marlana Thompson, 17, of Athens, Ga.,  
as she left Clarke Central High School.                                         
   Part of the confusion stems from the complexity of independently adjusting   
the statistical curves of the test's two parts. For the most part, the new      
system raises scores: a verbal score of 730 becomes a perfect 800, for example. 
But for a handful of math whizzes, scores will dip. A 670 math score on the new 
test equals of previous score of 680.                                           
   The last time the scores were recalibrated was in 1941, when only 10,000     
students took the exam, most of them well-educated, affluent, college-bound     
white men from the Northeast. As more and more students took the test, the      
nation's most widely used college entrance exam, average scores went down. Last 
year, the test's format was changed slightly to reduce biases against women and 
minorities. This year, 1.8 million students from a range of backgrounds will    
take the test, which is regarded as a measure of abstract reasoning.            
   "There is a gross misalignment between the 1995 scale and the 1941 scale,"   
said Bradley J. Quin, an associate director at the College Board. "Americans    
like to fix everything in numbers. We fix on a 520 and you are a 520 kid for the
rest of life. But the mathematicians know full square that number is not set in 
   Dr. Neil J. Dorans, a psychometrician at the  Educational Testing Service  in
Princeton, N.J., who supervised the readjustment of scores, said recentering    
scores every year would make comparisons over time impossible.                  
   "Basically you become dependent on the group of candidates who happen to take
the test that year," he said. "You lose the ability to make comparisons from    
year to year."                                                                  
   Dr. Dorans said he first proposed readjusting the scores in 1983. "A lot of  
people wanted to stay with the old scale because it had a tradition of 50 years.
It took a lot of persuading, a lot of research, to point out the positive       
benefits of changing."                                                          
   The new scoring system is based on a study of more than a million S.A.T.     
results from 1990. "Now, students won't have to look at percentiles," Dr. Dorans
said. "They can just compare the scores and get a good handle on their relative 
strengths and weaknesses. It's a chance to see themselves relative to their     
peers instead of a group from 1941."                                            
   For some admission counselors, the new scores will not make much difference. 
At Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, one of the most          
competitive schools in the country, the director of admissions, Michael C.      
Behnke, was unmoved. "We will certainly be less impressed by 800's than we were 
before," he said. "But frankly, we weren't ever impressed much by 800's         
because we got a lot of them."                                                  
   Several admission officers said they were concerned that the recentering of  
scores would confuse college applicants. College guidebooks, often carried about
like bibles by high school students pondering their futures, are now all out of 
date because they list old scores.                                              
   Geoffrey J. Harford, the director of admissions at Pennsylvania State        
University, said he was worried students would misinterpret their higher scores.
"Just because the recentered score is higher on paper does not mean they have   
done better verbally or mathematically," he said. "I am not sure the test takers
are aware of that."                                                             
   Sarah Strauss, 16, a junior at Brookline High School just outside Boston,    
said she had been aware of the recentering of scores but did not expect them to 
affect her chances of getting into Skidmore, a liberal arts college in upstate  
New York.                                                                       
   "I worried about the S.A.T.'s because I feel pressure to do well," Miss      
Strauss said. "But this test just shows if you are good at filling in little    
ovals. Life isn't about that at all."                                           
   Elizabeth Hotetz, a junior at Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale, N.Y.,   
did not know of the score change until her mother told her about it just before 
the test. "I don't think it's going to make much of a difference," she said     
clutching her pencils on the way into the exam. "The test is still as hard as   
GRAPHIC: Photo: An S.A.T. test that added 100 points to their scores was no less
traumatic for Olivia Ng, left, and Stephanie Xie, outside Stuyvesant High School
in Battery Park City yesterday. About 230,000 students took the test. (Jim      
Estrin/The New York Times)                                                      
Table: "SORTING IT OUT: The S.A.T. Decoder" gives a conversion chart showing    
what old scores would be under the new recentereing. The conversions are        
applicable for those who have taken the test in the last four or five years.    
While all verbal scores would rise, some math scores above 650 would decline    
slightly under recentering.                                                     
Graph: "Applying the New Curve to Old Scores" tracks median S.A.T. scores from  
1967 to 1994. Original scores are shown with recentered scores. Figures for 1994
are based on individual students' scores that have been recentered; other are   
estimates obtained by applying an equation to the original scale. (Source:      
College Board)