SAT Scoring Fiasco Prompts Class-Action

In a word, the October 2005 SATs were a disaster.  Instead of serving as the trustworthy guideline on which college admissions, scholarships, and financial are based, the test may have actually destroyed thousands of students’ chances for either.

Between erroneous scores that were either too low or too high, over 5,000 high school students 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 undoubtedly 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 (about 600) 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.

Thus, some 500,000 students were competing against these erroneously inflated scores and any admission, scholarship, or financial aid determinations based on those errors will not be corrected at all. This is a particularly bitter pill for high school students and their parents to swallow.

The college admission process is an extremely stressful experience for high school students and their parents. After grades, complicated applications, and personal interviews are considered by the various colleges and universities, the final decision often comes down to a student’s SAT scores.

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.

The exams have their supporters that believe the SATs are the best single predictor of performance in college. They see the format as not being readily coachable and more reliable than grades.

The many critics of the tests disagree and see the SAT as outdated, biased and a poor indicator of future academic performance.  They believe high school grades and the rigor of courses already taken are the best measures of a student’s potential.

Critics also regard the test as coachable thereby giving more affluent students, who are able to afford preparatory courses, an unfair advantage. Language difficulties (associated with time limitations and the multiple choice format) and accusations of racial, gender, and socio-economic bias are also cited as reasons for discontinuing the tests.

Of course, all of this presumes that, at the very least, the tests are properly graded. That, however, is no longer a “given” since the College Board, the non-profit organization that owns the exam has admitted the 5,000-plus grading errors on the October 2005 test.

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.

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?”

Clearly, this is one of those situations where there cannot be a “do over” and some students will have been denied the chance to attend the college of their choice because of a mistake that has yet to be explained to anyone’s satisfaction.

The problem is made all the more astonishing by the fact that the College Board does not intend to lower the scores of students that received the benefit of incorrectly high grades because of its established “policy” not to notify colleges of those errors. The Board claims it is now reviewing that policy.

Thus, it is quite possible that students who should have been rejected at certain colleges will be wrongly accepted and unjustly take the place of students who should have been accepted on the basis of legitimate SAT scores.

College choices are a very personal and meaningful matter for students and their families. Moreover, there is little doubt that careers can be markedly affected by the college or university one attends.

As a result, the mistakes (high or low) have produced grief and potentially life-altering effects on both the recipients of the incorrect grades as well as those wrongfully displaced by them. You simply cannot “unring the bell” for all of those affected by this debacle.

Now, the matter will probably be left to a court to sort out since 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.

The filing indicates that 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.

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