The Dog Ate the SAT Scores, Gays and Conservatives Unite, and Recess Redux

By Rich Shea — March 15, 2006 4 min read
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This has not been a good week for the College Board. First came the news that the scores of 4,000 students who took the SAT last October were misreported. For the most part, the scores were 10 to 100 points (out of 2,400 total) lower than they should have been, but for 16 students, they were more than 200 points deficient. This mishap, detected after two test-takers requested a re-examination of their scores in December, sent college admissions departments scrambling to re-review applications. And, according to college counselors, it infuriated those high schoolers who’d altered their application plans based on what they originally thought were inadequate scores.

Then came news of the reason for the mistake—rain. It seems that most of the victims were Northeasterners, and right about the time they took the exam, rainstorms soaked states like New York and New Jersey. This bloated answer sheets with enough moisture to render some of the penciled-in bubbles unreadable, according to Pearson Educational Measurement, the Texas-based outfit that scores the SATs. The true culprit thus detected, the College Board then had to deliver more unfortunate news: In all the confusion, the company had forgot to rescore 1,600 other exams that the Educational Testing Service, which handles some of the SAT scoring, was holding onto at its New Jersey campus. So, once again, college admissions departments are planning to put in some overtime.

That’s not the case, however, at Hamilton College in upstate New York, where, just before the latest series of events transpired, the faculty voted in favor of not requiring SAT scores as part of the admissions process. The reason: the tests cause too much anxiety and don’t fully reflect student potential. Robert Schaeffer, of the group FairTest, which is critical of the testing industry, said the biggest problem is that demand for standardized tests exceeds exam companies’ resources. “The volume is way up,” he added, “and the people with the competence to do this don’t exist.” As if on cue, ETS agreed, a few days later, to settle a class-action suit by paying roughly 27,000 people a total of $11.1 million for scoring mistakes it made in 2003 and 2004. The plaintiffs in the suit were not high schoolers; they were Praxis test-takers hoping to earn their teacher’s licenses.

Gay teens are also seeking justice via the court system. In California, especially, a number of recent lawsuits attest to “the students’ desire to not just not be beat up, but to actually have full equality,” says Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay Straight Alliance Network in San Francisco. One lesbian teen, for example, sued her district after she was told she couldn’t show affection toward her girlfriend on campus. And Los Angeles Unified settled a harassment suit by promising to provide Washington Prep High School with antibias training. Critics of the movement contend that teens are being used by adult activists to push a pro-gay agenda. But the activists say they’re simply providing support for students fighting their own battles. And, indeed, the number of gay-straight alliances formed by kids in California schools has grown considerably, from roughly 40 eight years ago to more than 500 today.

Same-sex-related lawsuits may soon be a thing of the past if educators follow the example set by two groups who, until recently, were at each other’s throats. With help from the First Amendment Center, conservative Christians and gay advocates agreed on guidelines for handling sexual-orientation issues in schools. They propose that each school create a task force that facilitates civil debate and student safety, is acquainted with state and federal laws, and keeps parents informed. The Christian Educators Association International and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network helped write the guidelines, which have been endorsed by prominent groups representing superintendents, curriculum specialists, and teachers. “This is not about compromising convictions,” noted Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center. “This is about finding ways to work and live together as American citizens.”

Another high-profile group has set its sights on creating well-rounded citizens. With the recent launch of a new Web site and a letter-writing campaign, the National Parent Teacher Association is strongly suggesting that schools bring recess back. Thanks to budget concerns and increased standardized testing, 40 percent of elementary schools have either axed recess or are weighing the option, according to the PTA. Meantime, research shows that “if children have an opportunity to take a break from their academic environment, they do better,” says the group’s president, Anna Weselak. Play, she adds, enables kids to establish friendships, burn off energy, and “demonstrate creativity.” The “Rescuing Recess” Web site invites kids themselves to express what recess means to them. The question now is: What does it means to school officials?

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