Pilot Program Is Result Of New Partnership Hopkins Institute, Sylvan To Test Computerized SAT Chris Rowett ----------------------------------- Homewood News and Information No. 2 pencils may soon become obsolete for students taking the SAT test. Under a pilot program developed in part by the Hopkins Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth, Sylvan Learning Centers Inc. will administer a computerized version of the standard college admission test to seventh-grade students applying to the institute's Talent Search program. The results of the test will not be used for college admission purposes. Instead, the College Board will use the test as a sort of trial run for the computerized version of the exam, now known as the SAT I: Reasoning Test. "Putting the nation's largest college admission test on computer is not a simple matter," said Donald Stewart, president of the College Board. "Before we can offer such a test to the broad student population, we need results from a variety of testing situations." As the first students to take the test on computer, Talent Search hopefuls will not have the pressure of achieving high scores in order to get into the colleges of their choice. "The stakes are clearly of a different nature," IAAY executive director William Durden said of the pilot test. "There is less stress for the students and less stress on the whole project." Students admitted to the Talent Search program are eligible to attend the IAAY's summer academic programs and activities held every year at Hopkins. More than 60,000 students worldwide are expected to participate in the program this year; about 6,000 took part in IAAY summer sessions last year. Prospective Talent Search students will begin taking the test at no cost next month; the College Board will expand its testing research next year to include other talent search programs and colleges. The pilot testing program is a result of a partnership between Hopkins and Sylvan, the Columbia-based testing service for students in kindergarten through the adult level. In addition to the pilot SAT program, Hopkins and Sylvan will develop specially designed math and language arts curricula for high achievers in middle school grades. A third component of the partnership will be the use of a series of tests developed to evaluate students' spatial abilities, or the skills to visualize changes in illustrated forms and recognize the relationship among arranged objects and shapes. The tests, developed by IAAY researcher Heinrich Stumpf, may be used as indicators of scientific promise or heightened skills of visual perception. "This adds yet another dimension to the testing that is available," Durden said. By working with Sylvan and its more than 600 learning centers throughout North America, the IAAY will significantly expand the availability of its educational services. "We don't have the resources already established to offer programs and assessment services worldwide," Durden said. "This partnership allows us to increase our infrastructure of delivering services to young people. "This is also our way of trying to maintain a robust and dynamic organization in the face of challenge," he added. Specific terms of the agreement will be determined later this year. Kicking off the alliance with the SAT test pilot program was "a natural progression," Durden said. "[The pilot test] gives us, the College Board and the Educational Testing Service the opportunity to see how effective computerized testing is," Durden said "If that proves effective, it will give us the opportunity to be at the ground floor of positioning the SAT in a computerized format for the entire country." There are a few differences in the two versions of the test, which evaluates verbal and mathematical skills. The paper and pencil SAT takes about three and a half hours, while the time allotted for the computerized version is two and a half hours, including a tutorial. The primary differences, as explained in an information packet provided to the 3,000 students expected to take the test, are related to the methods of answering questions. A minimum number of questions must be answered before a score can be calculated, and students cannot omit, or pass, any questions or return to a question after answering it. They will, however, be given the opportunity to change an answer before moving on. Additionally, testing tools and functions such as erase are available as "Help icons" on the testing screen, and an automatic timer will signal when five minutes of allotted testing time remains. "Most kids are computer savvy," said Linda Barnett, director of the talent search for IAAY. "They've used computers and are comfortable with them." Orientation tapes are also available. "Students will not take this blindly," she said. About 1.8 million students take the SAT each year; Durden said instant scoring and the increased accessibility are just two advantages of the computerized test. Additionally, "some students may find it easier to look at one question at a time, instead of going from a test booklet back to the test," Barnett said. Other benefits, Durden noted, are unknown. "The fact is, we don't know all of the educational advantages of technology," he said. "With this test, we can start evaluating that."
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