English Plus+ News, March 1999

The New SAT of 1999

Will 2400 Be the New Perfect Score?

After years of glacial changes, the decade of the nineties has seen some major changes in the Scholastic Assessment Test, or SAT, America's most widely-used college entrance exam.

The Name Game
One change was simply the name. It used to be called the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The old name was more precise about what it claimed to test - how apt you were supposed to do in school. However, the word aptitude has become more politically loaded with controversies over IQ tests. The College Board changed the name but kept the initials.

Then the College Board, which publishes the SAT, decided to change the name of its subject area tests. They used to be called Achievement Tests. Since the word Assessment is broader in meaning, they decided to call those tests SAT's, too. That is, SAT-II. The "original" SAT, then was called the SAT-I.

The test names have caused some confusion, but most students refer to the SAT-I as the SAT's.

The Re-Centering Controversy
Probably the most significant and controversial change was the "recentering" done in 1995. The SAT in its present form was established in 1941. It used standards based on 1941high school seniors taking the test.

Major changes had taken place since then. In 1941 about five percent of America's high school graduates went on to college. Today it is around sixty percent. In our state of Connecticut it is seventy percent most years. That means that colleges have become larger and necessarily less selective. It is also true that, while more students finish high school today than in 1941, the graduation requirements as a whole are not as rigorous as they were in 1941. For both reasons, the College Board decided to re-score the average of the tests to reflect students entering college in 1995.

Some people said that it was about time because so many more students were attending college. Others decried this as another example of the "dumbing down" of America.

As an aside, if you want to see how scores differ today from before 1995, get a copy of English Plus's free Windows software SATCon, the SAT Score Converter. This program also has a Help file with an overview of the history of the SAT. You may download it from our download site at http://englishplus.com/pub/.

The New Look for 1999
Now, in 1999, the SAT takes on another new look. The SAT has a thirdsection which is scored just like the other two sections. Now the SAT has three "equal" sections: Math, Verbal, and Writing Skills. Each section is scored on the 200-800 scale.

A writing skills section is nothing new to the SAT. The original SAT in the early part of the century was all essay. With the rise of psychological testing in Word War I, the College Board modified the SAT to include multiple-choice (multiple-guess?) questions. In 1941 the SAT became all multiple-choice.

Much of the time, however, there was a third, small section of the SAT. It was called the TSWE - Test of Standard Written English. It was scored very differently, on a scale of 60. It was supposed to be used to help college place students in freshman English classes. Colleges claimed that they paid less attention to this section in its admissions process.

In the eighties, colleges began to complain more about poorly prepared students who could not express themselves in writing. Nationwide, about one third of students entering college take some kind of remedial courses, most often in English or writing. While colleges tried to pressure high schools about this, colleges also turned to the College Board for help.

In 1994 it looked like the Board was not going to help. It did away with the TSWE altogether! But they were listening. Last year the PSAT instituted a third section, Writing Skills. It was identical to the old TSWE - questions of grammar and style. The PSAT had never had this before. This year the Writing Skills appears in the regular SAT-I. And it is not tucked away with a different score for freshman placement only.

Writing Skills is a now a fully-fledged member of the family. It is scored on the same 200-800 scale as the Math and Verbal sections.

How the Writing Skills Section Is Being Used Already
Not only that, but we already see that it is being taken more seriously. As already mentioned, it is on the PSAT. And the Junior Year PSAT is used to qualify students for the National Merit Scholarship program. This year the qualifying score is simply the sum of the three parts of the PSAT. A student who got a 65 in Math, a 60 in Verbal, and a 70 in Writing Skills would be scored as a 195.

Under the old system, the Verbal score was doubled and added to the Math score. That same student in the old system would have gotten a 185 (two times 60 plus 65). That TSWE writing section was not on the PSAT at all.

Follow the Money
I expect that within a few years people will no longer speak of 1600 being a perfect score on the SAT, but 2400. The PSAT is already being recorded that way for purposes of awarding money. Even people who do not pay a whole lot of attention to the score will pay attention to the money.

Eliminating Male Bias
There is one other very significant change this will accomplish. Time and again tests have shown that male high school students as a whole show more interest in and do better in math, science, and technical subjects. Female students do better than males in the "humanities." Some feminists have complained that the SAT have been biased towards men because half the test emphasizees math.

One reason the Verbal PSAT score was doubled for the National Merit Scholarship was to give women more of a chance. (The other reason was that the Verbal skills are needed in all subjects; many college majors do not require much math). Now that will not be necessary. The Writing Skills section basically adds another language-related score. If anything, the scores will favor female students. It may finally put an end to the rap that the SAT were biased towards males.

What Will Happen if Schools Emphasize English More?
There may be some political considerations behind this big change, but in the long run colleges will appreciate it. They would be happy to motivate students in high school and their teachers to do more with grammar and writing.

With the technological changes, the world has shrunk. English is more widely spoken than any other language - it is the second language of choice for most people in the world. Now more than ever we must be able to communicate effectively in English to people with a wide variety of backgrounds, dialects, and levels of fluency. Anything that will make the communication clearer will be good for everyone.

2. A Little Nuts & Bolts™ Problem Solved

While English Plus mostly puts out language-related software, it does have some other software available. One such small program is WinAlter, which can alter File date, time, and attributes in Windows. (When it first came out, you had to go into DOS to do this). There was not a big demand for this, mostly for programmers and some folks who keep track of file versions. Our small company could serve a smaller number of users by working on this.

Recently a user was having a minor problem with his Nuts & Bolts utility program. This common utility has a number of features like crash guard, file encryption, disk cleanup, and so on. One of its features is a program which can take any appropriately sized picture in the Bitmap (.BMP) format and make that picture appear when you start or close Windows, instead of the "Clouds" or "Windows is shutting down" screen.

When he added some of his own bitmap pictures to the Nuts & Bolts folder so he could customize his startup screen, their names did not appear in the Nuts & Bolts "Open File" dialog box. Other .BMP files did. When he checked the files in Windows Explorer, he noticed that the Nuts & Bolts .BMP files had a "Normal" file attribute. This is actually unusual. Once a file is modified or copied, its attribute is changed to "Archive," which is actually most common attribute. He loaded the file names into his WinAlter program and clicked on the "Reset to Normal" menu command. This changed those file attributes from Archive to Normal. All the .BMP files now appeared in the Nuts & Bolts "Open File" dialog box. Now he has opening and closing screens of his own choosing.

This may not be as significant as getting into the college of your choice... but we were glad our program could help with this problem, too.

3. A Little Thanks

We at English Plus thank you for your suggestions and help. We appreciate your comments as we try to improve our web site and our products.

May all your anguish be vanquished,
Your friends at English Plus+

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