Are the SAT's Still Flawed?

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WORCESTER, Mass. -- John Wilkes, associate professor of social science and policy studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, recently released the details of a groundbreaking pilot study that compared the past and present versions of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and determined that efforts to reduce cultural bias in the SATs may have increased cognitive bias, and that there is apparently no correlation between high scores and college performance.

On March 9, Wilkes presented his findings during the "Quality Education: Evolution and Revolution" conference in Orlando, Fla., sponsored by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT). "Our initial studies, completed in 1994 and 1995, have led us to undertake a major research program to ascertain the nature and the size of these cognitive-style biases in the SATs," says Wilkes. "We are putting the field on notice that a major change in how we look at the SATs is on the horizon."

Wilkes' presentation was based on two studies completed under hi95 formed the theoretical framework for the work; the second, by Danielle Batey 97 of Fairfield, Maine, Paula Brezniak 97 of Cherry Valley, Mass., and Ashwin Purohit 95 of Albany, N.Y. , focused on the actual testing. WPI, CAPT and the Worcester public schools collaborated on the projects, which were sponsored by Keith McCormick 91, founder of Comprehensive College Preparation Services, a Worcester-based company that offers a range of college preparation classes and tutoring and has a natural interest in the PSATs and SATs.

The authors gathered data from 530 high school students in two waves of data collection at four Worcester-area urban and one suburban high school. The first group of 280 students took the last round of the old SAT exam in 1993; the second group, of 250 students, took the new version of the SAT in 1995not lessened as the exam's creators and those who pushed for the change expected.

"Our analysis of the changes suggests that time pressures on students may have increased by replacing a percentage of the analogies with additional reading comprehension sections. Our samples show that differences in SAT score gaps are as large or larger than previous gaps in scores attributed to race, social class and coached vs. uncoached students, which began the current SAT debate." Wilkes is working with teams of students to gather data on 4,000 Worcester-area high school students using the PSATs to determine the size and nature of cognitive biases. "Should these pilot-study findings replicate on the larger database, they will kick off a national debate because, for some ccognitivetypes, the SATs do tell you something, but for others there is no correlation between these exams and college performance."

The students completed their research and reports to satisfy their Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) requirement. The IQP is one of three projects all undergraduates at WPI undertake as part of the innovative WPI Plan, a flexible, exciting and academically challenging program introduced in 1971. Under the Plan, students are provided with unique opportunities for integrating classroom studies with preprofessional academic projects conducted on campus or at companies, agencies and project sites in the U.S. and abroad. The purpose of the IQP is to make students aware of their responsibilities to manage technology effectively and ethically.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute is an independent, technological university founded in 1865.