In the news: Gaston Caperton

November 29, 2002

If higher education minister Margaret Hodge was expecting a bureaucrat of the type that habitually heads British exam boards when she met the chief executive of America's College Board this week, she was in for a surprise. Gaston Caperton is a tall, suave businessman, who is more than a match for the minister in terms of political experience and personal wealth.

Mr Caperton, a self-made millionaire from the world of insurance, was the Democrat governor of West Virginia for eight years. Education - mainly at school level - was the theme of his governorship. After leaving office in 1997, he taught at Harvard University's Institute of Politics and was director of the Institute of Education and Government at Columbia University in New York.

For the past three years, however, Mr Caperton has headed the College Board, the organisation responsible for the scholastic aptitude test (SAT) taken by applicants to 4,000 American colleges and universities. About 3 million SATs are taken each year, and the board is looking overseas to increase the total. Singapore has joined the fold, using the tests to supplement A levels, and Britain is another prime target.

Mr Caperton was in London at the invitation of Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust and a longstanding supporter of SATs. Mr Lampl saw this summer's A-level debacle as a further opportunity to press the case for aptitude testing, and lined up meetings with Downing Street officials and vice-chancellors, as well as with Ms Hodge.

The SAT has seen radical change under Mr Caperton's stewardship, with the introduction of essay writing in one paper, but the format proposed for Britain would be restricted to the original aptitude testing, similar to IQ tests. At a press briefing in London, Mr Caperton claimed that, taken alongside A levels, the SAT would bring "equity and excellence".

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