College & Workforce Readiness

College Board to Drop Policy Letting Students Select Best Test Scores

By Darcia Harris Bowman — March 06, 2002 3 min read
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High school students who take the SAT II subject tests required for admission to many colleges soon will no longer be able to choose which scores the colleges see.

Officials of the College Board said the organization’s guidance and admissions committee recommended dropping the score-choice option that thousands of college-bound students use each year, because it wastes the time of high school counselors and college-admissions officers and gives affluent students an unfair advantage.

Under the 9-year-old policy, the officials say, students who can afford the cost and have received better academic guidance—whether at home or in school—are able to take the SAT II multiple times in an effort to get better scores. Students who are less well-off don’t enjoy that advantage.

Each sitting for one or more SAT II tests costs $14 for registration, plus $6 to $11 per test.

“Some students know how to work the system,” said Gretchen W. Rigol, a vice president of the College Board, which is based in New York City. “Students from more economically advantaged backgrounds who attend schools with low ratios of counselors to students—those students have a different approach to all this from students in Newark or downtown L.A.”

The new policy will likely take effect next school year. Students taking SAT II subject exams this year will still have the option of withholding scores.

According to Ms. Rigol, the score-choice policy was introduced as a way of encouraging students to take chances on subjects they might otherwise refuse to be tested on for fear of hurting their chances with the college of their choice.

“The idea was that this would signal to students, ‘Try things, experiment,’” she said. “But from the minute score choice was implemented, there have been criticisms of it.”

Work for Counselors

The College Board, whose membership includes more than 4,200 educational institutions and organizations, introduced the SAT II tests in 1993 to supplement its Scholastic Achievement Test of reasoning, now called the SAT I, according to a spokeswoman for the board. Of last year’s college- bound high school seniors, 252,504 took SAT II subject tests sometime during their high school careers, while 1.3 million took the SAT I.

Only 59 colleges require SAT II exams for admissions, while 69 recommend them. Those schools typically want students to take at least three different subject tests. The SAT II has been the only exam offered by the College Board that allows students the option of holding back scores.

In addition to enhancing the advantages of already privileged students, College Board officials say, the score-choice option on the SAT II also unnecessarily burdens already busy high school guidance counselors.

When students sign up for the tests, they can check a box that allows them to automatically hold back the scores until they decide if and when they want to send the results to colleges. Once they see the scores, students can decide which ones they want reported and to what colleges.

When students forget to tell the College Board to release the scores, officials say, it sometimes hurts their chances for admission to the college of their choice.

Guidance counselors—some of whom advise hundreds of students—are often saddled with the job of keeping track of the process, said Mark H. Kuranz, a former president of the Alexandria, Va.-based American School Counselors Association.

Mr. Kuranz, a guidance counselor at the 2,000-student J.T. Case High School in Racine, Wis., said the process also adds to the perception held by many students and their families that standardized tests are the ultimate key to college. He emphasized that there are other equally important tactics for getting into college.

“It’s just one piece of the whole puzzle,” he said. “This [policy change] should help kids see that a little better.”

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A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 2002 edition of Education Week as College Board to Drop Policy Letting Students Select Best Test Scores

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