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SAT will have substantial changes

Substantial revisions of the Scholastic Aptitude Test were approved Wednesday. The test, which is used heavily in deciding who gets into what college, is taken each year by more than 1-million high school students. The changes will put more emphasis on reading skills, move the exam away from multiple-choice answers and, for the first time, permit calculators to be used.

But the College Board, the non-profit organization that sponsors the tests, stopped short of more sweeping changes, such as mandatory essay questions, that had been under consideration in the exams.

Board officials rejected suggestions that charges of cultural bias prompted the revisions in the test, which is used heavily in deciding who gets into what college.

Today's eighth-graders will be the first class to take the new tests when they become high school juniors in the spring of 1994.

For months, word has been leaking out of a fundamental restructuring that would bring the tests out from under accusations of inaccuracy and obsolescence.

Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board, and Gregory Anrig, president of the Educational Testing Service, which de

signs and administers the test, have talked freely for years about how important it was to substantially revise the test.

But in the end severe criticism, especially from minority groups who believed a mandatory essay would put them at a disadvantage, and to a lesser extent the cost of administering and scoring the essays, killed the proposal for mandatory essays.

The most significant change is in the mathematics section where problems have been added in which students, using calculators if they wish, figure out the answer instead of just selecting it from a list of options.

The number of these problems will remain small _ no more than 15 out of about 60 items _ but it underscores a greater emphasis toward problem solving and individual thinking.

The verbal part of the new SAT will also be altered substantially. The section asking for opposites of various words will be dropped and replaced by an expanded part on critical reading, in which students must read a passage of literature and answer multiple-choice questions about it.

Overall, nervous student test-takers might feel a little less pressure because there will be slightly fewer questions to be answered in slightly more time. Twenty minutes will be added to the test, which now last 2{ hours.

However, most answers will still have to be picked from a list and filled in with a No.

2 lead pencil, and the scores will be based on the same 200 to 800 scale as the current test, with a top score of 1,600 points total.

Some of those gathered at the meeting Wednesday were surprised at the comparatively modest scope of change, which they said must have been a disappointment to Stewart and the board.

"If he's not embarrassed he should be," said Robert Schaeffer, a consultant who opposes standardized tests.

But Stewart did not let on that he was let down by Wednesday's vote. He and other officials said the changes will improve the test and help raise standards in high schools across the country.

"Taken as a whole, these changes are designed to send positive signals to our schools, to reinforce sound curriculum in the high schools," said Derek Bok, president of Harvard and co-chairman of a panel that reviewed the proposed changes in the tests. Bok said the revisions will make them "a more versatile set of tests serving a more diverse group of people."

But those who have long asserted the tests provide an inaccurate assessment of student ability that also is heavily biased against women and minorities immediately attacked the changes as being little more than cosmetic retouches.

"The test is not going to be improved in terms of predictability for college performance because it has basically not changed," said Cinthia Schuman, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a non-profit group in Cambridge, Mass., that has often led the opposition to the tests. Nor, she said, will the changes correct the bias against women and minorities.

Whites as a group have outperformed minority students, and males have fared better than females.

The SAT, administered by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., was first given to 8,040 students in 1926.

In addition to changes in the SAT, there were also changes in related achievement tests. Bowing to pressure from California educators and Asian-Americans worried about the effect on immigrants, a written essay will replace the multiple-choice English composition achievement test, which is supplemental to the regular SAT and is required by far fewer colleges.

And, as strongly advocated by the University of California, achievement tests for Japanese and Chinese language skills will be added in four years.

_ Information from the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.