SAT Scoring Debacle Prompts Apology by College Board President

Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, is a man on the hot seat right now. While he is seeking to restore credibility and trust in the SAT examination, he has also been forced to apologize for the self-created disaster caused by thousands of scoring errors on the October 2005 test.

The College Board already apologized to the students who took the exam and received erroneous grades. Now, a formal apology has been sent by Caperton to the members of the College Board itself. I an email to those members, Caperton stated: “This situation
has tested us. It has tested me. We could not be more sorry that this happened or more determined to learn from our experience and to press on more vigorously than ever with our educational mission.”

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The members of the College Board include nonprofit groups, colleges, and high schools.

Caperton’s email did not reveal any additional insight into what went wrong with the October examination; however, it did raise the issue of the dilemma presented by the 613 erroneous test scores that were too high and the Board’s policy of not reporting such errors. He stated that the mater will be reviewed at a May meeting of the SAT committee.

Between erroneous scores that were either too low or too high, over 5,026 high school students, of the 495,000 who took the test, have been affected.

The scores that were too low (4,411) were off by as much as 450 points out of a maximum score of 2400. Thus, a student scoring a “perfect” 2400 could have received a score of 1950, or 19% lower than he or she actually deserved. A student receiving a lower score would see the error causing even greater problems. A legitimate 1800 underscored by 450 would be off by a full 25% for example.

These errors may have deprived numerous students of admission to one or more of the colleges they had as their first or second choices and also altered determinations as to scholarships awarded to many of them.

Even when corrected, most colleges could do nothing to make up for the errors since admission, scholarship, and financial aid determinations had already been made.

The scores that were too high (613) were off by up to 50 points. These errors were even more problematic since College Board policy does not allow for the correction of such errors. This has been a particularly bitter pill for high school students and their parents to swallow.

The original SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) began in 1926, when about 8,000 students took it. In 1994, the name of the exam was changed to the Scholastic Assessment Test by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which produces the exam. What used to be called the “achievement” tests (in specific subjects such as biology, chemistry, and physics) are now referred to as the SAT Subject Tests.

Although the havoc these incorrectly graded tests have caused is difficult to quantify, there is little doubt that for some students the damage is significant and irreparable.

Pearson Educational Measurement (a contractor used by the Board to grade the test) was previously responsible for scoring errors on a 2000 state test that prevented some students from graduating with their class. A lawsuit based on that occurrence settled in 2002 with Pearson agreeing to pay $12 million.

The College Board has stated it “couldn’t be more sorry for the total stress this has caused students and admissions officers.” It has also promised to “do everything we can” to intervene with admissions offices on behalf of affected students.

These statements, however, cannot undo the damage already done to students who were not accepted at colleges and universities solely because of the incorrectly graded tests. In fact, many colleges and universities had already made their selections (and rejections) by March 7, when the initial disclosure concerning the mistakes was made.

It is difficult to imagine how confidence in the SAT grading process can be restored. In calling for an independent investigation of the massive error, one critic of the test stated: “This would be a comedy of errors if the impact on human lives were not so tragic. How many more missing forms are there lost in the system? How many other errors have not been reported?”

The matter has progressed to the courts now that a class-action law suit has been filed in Minnesota to force the Board to correct the erroneously inflated scores and for other relief to compensate for the errors that were committed. It is hoped that the suit will finally reveal what really happened in this case.

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