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Education Letter to the Editor

A Dearth of Standardization in College-Entrance Exams

September 16, 2008 1 min read
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To the Editor:

As reported in your recent articles “SAT Scores for Class of 2008 Halt Slide of Recent Years” (Sept. 3, 2008) and “ACT Scores Dip Slightly as Participation Soars” (Aug. 27, 2008), scores on the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams remain flat or trend slightly downward, while score gaps between groups of students remain wide. Are these numbers reliable? Unfortunately, no.

We assume that scores reflect a standardized norm, but this is not the case. While attention turns to the ACT’s one-tenth of a point decline (on a 36-point scale), where is the mention of the approximately 2 percent of SAT test-takers who take the exam under nonstandard conditions? The latter is a far more significant number.

In 2002, when the College Board, the owner of the SAT, faced a threatened lawsuit by disability-rights advocates who argued against flagging scores of exams administered with extended time, it blinked. Rather than defend its appropriate and legal reporting, the College Board settled. ACT Inc., the owner of the ACT, followed suit. Since 2003, test scores are no longer marked, and no one knows what scores mean because some (how many?) are not normed, not standardized. In short, there are apples and oranges aplenty. On the SAT, time can be extended by 50 percent or even 100 percent, thus modifying the test.

As an attorney who represents schools and writes and speaks nationally about testing and standards issues, I see the widespread confusion and cynicism this flawed policy causes. Who, if anyone, benefits from results whose very validity is questionable?

Rather than continue down this path, the College Board should consider three better options: (a) Flag scores again; (b) give all students the choice to take tests with nonstandard accommodations that would be flagged; or, (c) if time really does not matter, simply remove the time restriction from everyone’s tests. These steps could return trust, fairness, and validity.

Public reporting is overdue, even as we ponder flat scores, wide gaps, and slight dips.

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

Attorney

Stoneman, Chandler & Miller LLP

Boston, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2008 edition of Education Week as A Dearth of Standardization In College-Entrance Exams


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