updated 3/5/2005 5:04:27 PM ET 2005-03-05T22:04:27

Critics of the SATs say there’s more to intelligence than finding grammar errors and solving geometry problems — or even, this year, than showing you can write an essay.

But how to measure those other abilities? Robert Sternberg, a Yale University psychologist, believes he’s developed a test that does just that. The test, dubbed “The Rainbow Project,” evaluates creativity and problem-solving rather than analytical skills. Instead of multiple choice questions, it asks students to write captions for cartoons, outline how they would solve a problem, or write stories with unusual titles like “The Octopus’s Sneakers” or “35,381.”

What most interests many experts about Sternberg’s early experiments is that they appear to predict students’ freshman GPA in college more accurately than SAT scores, and with a narrower gap between ethnic and socio-economic groups.

“If you’re growing up in a poor family, there’s got to be more emphasis on developing creative and practical skills,” Sternberg said.

The test results could be interpreted as a threat to the College Board, which has funded Sternberg’s research, and Sternberg says some in the testing field have reacted defensively. He is waiting to hear soon if the College Board will fund an expanded trial that would show if the patterns hold beyond the initial 800-student sample.

College Board President Gaston Caperton said he is excited by the project and hopes to continue to work with Sternberg, though no funding decision has been made. He said the College Board will have to look closely at whether the test could be feasibly administered and graded, and to make sure clever students can’t beat the system to raise their score.

Sternberg says the problems can be overcome.

“We can’t afford to have a lot of people who could do really great stuff for our society not given the chance because they can’t get through the testing system,” he said.

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