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ETS Fails Court Test

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The New York State Court of Appeals has ruled that the Educational Testing Service breached its contract with a student test-taker when it refused to consider his explanation for an unusually large increase in his SAT scores.

In December, the state's highest court ruled 5-2 that the ETS failed to weigh relevant information Brian Dalton submitted to explain the 410-point jump in his scores after he took the Scholastic Aptitude Test a second time in 1991. Dalton said his scores improved after he completed a test-preparation course.

Dalton's advocates say the decision will open the door to future court challenges by students against the ETS, which administers the exam, now known as the Scholastic Assessment Test. Legal action against the Princeton, N.J.-based company had seemed daunting in the past because the ETS had never before lost such a case, says Jay Rosner, director of the Princeton Review Foundation, the nonprofit arm of a test-preparation service that lent legal support to Dalton.

Still, the court did not find the testing company's appeals process unfair. (The ETS, as a matter of course, challenges test results that show more than a 250-point increase on either the mathematics or verbal section, or more than a 350-point combined-score increase.) And the judges, noting that the validity of Dalton's scores had yet to be determined, declined to rule that ETS should now report Dalton's scores to colleges.

"We view this as a victory because the court upheld our procedures as being fair,'' says Ray Nicosia, director of test security for the ETS.

After the decision, Vincent Nicolosi, Dalton's lawyer, said he would now return to a trial court to seek compensation for his client's loss of admissions and a scholarship to the college of his choice. Two lower courts had earlier ruled in favor of Dalton, who is now a senior at Queens College in New York City.

--Jeanne Ponessa

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