The writing section added to the SAT has done little to improve the exam's ability to predict how students will do in college, according to research released Tuesday by the test's owner.
Critics of the SAT seized on the College Board's findings, which came three years after the revamped, nearly four-hour exam made its debut.
"After all their ballyhoo about how the new test was going to be a better tool for college admissions, it's not," said Robert Schaeffer, director of the group FairTest. "It's longer and more expensive. That's all you can say about it."
The SAT now runs three hours, 45 minutes — or 45 minutes longer than the old version — and will cost $45 in 2008-09, up from $29.50, though aid is available.
The College Board defended the SAT, saying that no predictor of college success is perfect, but that the exam is a good one.
"Both tests are very valid, the old one and the new one," said Laurence Bunin, the senior vice president who oversees the SAT program. "What's important here is that the new SAT places an emphasis on writing" and offers a valid test of another skill that is "critical to college success."
The analysis measured the connection between SAT performance for the high school of class of 2006 and college grades.
The correlation scale ranges from minus 1 to 1. A correlation of zero would indicate no connection between scores and grades, and 1 would show a perfect correlation — basically, that high scorers on the SAT are guaranteed to earn high college grades.
The study found high school GPA had a .54 correlation with college grades, which is considered fairly strong. Individually, all three SAT sections had lower correlations, but taken together they were .53.
Combining high school GPA with the three SATs scores was stronger still — .62. But that was just .01 higher than if the writing exam weren't included.
Many colleges have said they would wait for research like this study before making long-term decisions about how to use students' SAT writing scores.