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So far, most Americans know little of the machinations under way at the College Board. Even test coaches have heard only the barest outlines of what the New SAT will look like. But this is how powerful the test has become: many schools are already worrying about how to change their curriculums to fit the new exam--even though the College Board has yet to finish a first draft of the first test booklet. The maiden administration isn't until March 2005. (The name of the test will be, simply, SAT. The letters now stand for nothing; the "New" is a temporary marketing term.)
In Georgia, Clarke County schools' director of assessment Ginger Davis-Beck says that in anticipation of the revamped test, her district might split Grade 10 into a semester of geometry and a semester of Algebra II for students who didn't get to Algebra I until Grade 9; it would be an unorthodox move that could require hiring more teachers. In Ohio, curriculum specialist Jennifer Manoukian of the Sycamore school system, outside Cincinnati, feels uneasy about the prospect of grammar questions. "Research shows that direct instruction of grammar is not beneficial," she says. "The correlation between that kind of grammar instruction and student performance in real life is very low. Yet here we have a test seeming to say that you have to go back to some old methods."
Some educators also fear that SAT prep will move from helping students improve their vocabulary to teaching them how to scribble hasty compositions in 25 or 30 minutes (the College Board hasn't settled on an essay time limit). "I'd hate to see all our English teachers begin to teach a formulaic style of writing to prepare students for this particular test," says college adviser Alice Kleeman of Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, Calif. "Adjustments might have to be made so that students can practice the type of essays expected on the SAT while reinforcing the idea that this isn't the only type of writing there is."
College Board vice president Chiara Coletti says the board has received "far more positive than negative" responses to the new test. But she adds that most people are just beginning to understand what will appear on it. Once they do, a much richer, knottier conversation about the New SAT will probably begin. For decades, the purpose of the test has been to try to measure students' general-reasoning abilities, not their specific knowledge of algebra or the extent to which they have written practice essays. Caperton's feat is actually twofold: not only has he begun to shape a U.S. curriculum, but he has also granted victory in a long, contentious argument about whether admissions tests should assess aptitudes or achievements. For decades, the SAT was, at its heart, an aptitude test; now it's becoming more like its competitor, the ACT, the nation's biggest achievement test.