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Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2008

New SATs give small benefits at higher cost


WASHINGTON - The writing section added to the SAT has done little to improve the exam's overall ability to predict how students will do in college, according to research released yesterday by the test's owner.

SAT critics seized on the College Board's findings, which were released 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," Robert Schaeffer, chief of the group FairTest, said. "It's longer and more expensive. That's all you can say about it."

The College Board defended the SAT, saying that no predictor of college success is perfect, but that the exam is a good one.

It highlighted the finding that the writing test does a slightly better job of predicting freshman-year college grade-point averages than do the math or critical reading sections, both of which are multiple choice.

"Both tests are very valid, the old one and the new one," Laurence Bunin, the senior vice president who oversees the SAT program, said. "What's important here is that the new SAT places an emphasis on writing," and offers a valid test of another skill "critical to college success."

The SAT runs 3 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 ACT, the other leading college admissions exam, has an optional writing section.

The College Board added the writing test, including a 25-minute essay, to help colleges fine-tune their decisions about students' skills. Admissions officers even can download a student's essay and read it.

The multiple-choice sections were altered somewhat in 2005.

The College Board, a not-for-profit group, claimed the test would boost writing's place in high schools. It backed that up in 2007 with a survey reporting 88 percent of teachers said writing had become a bigger priority.

From the start, however, some teachers argued the exam encouraged formulaic writing and was susceptible to coaching.

Yesterday's findings cover about 150,000 students.

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