Policy Shift Lets Students Withhold Low SAT Scores

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Students who take the SAT more than once will soon be able to cherry-pick which scores they want colleges to see, rather than have those institutions automatically receive all of their scores, under a policy change by the College Board.

Officials of the College Board, the New York City-based nonprofit organization that owns the SAT, said that the change, effective for the class of 2010, will relieve student stress and will not detract from the value of the widely used college-entrance exam.

Some observers contend, though, that the change will give wealthier students an unfair advantage because they can afford to pay the costs of private SAT-prep tutoring and the fees for taking the test multiple times.

Following a unanimous decision late last week by trustees of the College Board to change its long-standing policy, officials sent a June 20 letter to College Board members outlining the otherwise unpublicized change.

“We changed the policy because students asked for it,” Alana Klein, a spokeswoman for the College Board, said in an e-mail to Education Week. “The integrity and validity of the SAT remains strong and has not been compromised as a result of adding this new feature.”

No Mix and Match

Under the new policy, students will be able to select the testing date for which they want their scores reported, but they will not be able to mix individual math, reading, and writing sections of the test taken on different days. Students taking SAT subject tests will also be able to choose which of the tests they want reported.

Colleges and universities will still be able to require applicants to send scores for all the dates they took the test, however. And if students do not opt to take advantage of the new policy, all of their scores will be sent.

In the letter, SAT Program General Manager Laurence Bunin pledged to keep educators, parents, and students up to date on details of implementing the policy, and announced the creation of an advisory board of admissions deans, high school counselors, and students to help guide the process.

Barmak Nassirian, the associate executive director of the Washington-based American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, noted that under the previous policy, students opting to retake the SAT in the hope of earning a higher score had to risk that it would drop and that colleges would be able to see both scores. The new policy, he suggested, makes retaking the test less of a gamble.

“That incentive is particularly attractive to more affluent applicants who can afford the price of admission,” he said. While such students can retake the test after expensive tutoring, he said, students who can afford neither tutoring nor repeated testing will face a disadvantage. The College Board waives the fees for the first two administrations of the exam for economically disadvantaged students, but subsequent sittings cost $45 each.

Plus for Marketing?

The move brings the SAT in line with the ACT, the college-admissions test owned by the Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit ACT Inc.

Students have long been allowed to choose which ACT scores they want to report. In recent years, student participation in the ACT has been growing faster than the SAT.

“It’s certainly an easy way for the SAT to counter one of the ACT’s marketing advantages and bring in more test-taking revenue for [the College Board],” said Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a testing-watchdog group based in Cambridge, Mass. “It’s a win-win for them.”

Ms. Klein of the College Board declined to comment on critical opinions of the new policy.

Lester P. Monts, the chairman of the College Board’s board of trustees and the senior vice provost for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, was quoted in the letter to the College Board membership—which includes both precollegiate and higher education institutions—as predicting that the new policy “will encourage a healthier admissions environment nationwide.”

“It comes after thorough consideration of extensive and compelling data collected over two years and after hearing the benefits and concerns voiced by our membership,” he said.

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