College & Workforce Readiness

Score-Report Holdups Mar College-Testing Season

January 19, 2016 4 min read
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Score-report delays, technical glitches, and changes to the ACT, the SAT, and the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test are adding angst to an already stressful college-search process for some high school students around the country this school year.

Testing companies’ customer-service centers and online discussion boards for school counselors have been buzzing because of a series of problems in recent months with tests from the College Board and ACT Inc.

“It’s been really frustrating—all the changes hitting all at once,” said J. Gavin Bradley, the director of college counseling at Pace Academy, an independent K-12 school in Atlanta. “College counselors are on the frontlines having to try and manage and explain all these changes while things are not going well.”

Officials at the two testing organizations are assuring the public that despite some setbacks, the new products and systems being launched will eventually help students better prepare for college and help counselors improve guidance.

Among those changes is ACT’s new enhanced writing test. About half the 370,000 test-takers completed the optional essay at the first administration on Sept. 12. Rather than giving students one overall score, the new test is scored by two raters who evaluate each essay on four domains. The process took longer than anticipated, said Paul Weeks, a senior vice president for client relations with the Iowa City, Iowa-based company.

Those waiting for writing scores eventually received them by the end of October—within the projected five- to eight-week window—but later than ACT had hoped and tight for students staring at a Nov. 1 early-admission or scholarship deadline, said Weeks.

Response and Consequences

“We know we caused some anxiety out there,” said Weeks. “We took it very seriously and notified colleges and universities and the recipients of the scores, and we got alerts out to the secondary space.”

One of Bradley’s seniors, for example, missed out on being considered for early-action admissions at one college because of delayed ACT scores and now must wait for a later admission decision. “The kid had done everything right, the college was holding the file and reached a point where they had to make a decision,” Bradley said.

Many colleges were accommodating of the delays, extending deadlines and accepting fax copies or screen shots of scores until the official ones arrived. Processes have been established to prevent such delays in the future, and scores were delivered on time for October and December ACT tests, said Weeks.

The College Board also experienced technical snafus with its SAT and PSAT tests. In October, a new electronic SAT-score reporting system that is meant to provide more feedback on student performance ran into delays.

The priority was to get scores first to students and colleges and then to high schools, said Stacy Caldwell, the vice president of college-readiness assessments for the College Board, based in New York City. She said scores from the November and December SAT were delivered to colleges on time, and high schools should receive the electronic SAT scores by the end of January.

“We both understand the frustration and appreciate the patience of the counselors as we work through these changes,” said Caldwell, who said the delays stemmed from technical and data problems.

Concerned about the problems so far, some counselors are steering students away from taking the redesigned SAT when it debuts in the spring. But Caldwell said the systems are in place to deliver scores for the March SAT by May.

At the University of Houston, students who saw that their requested SAT or ACT scores had not arrived on campus and then contacted the admissions office were granted extra time to meet the Dec. 1 merit-scholarship deadline.

“It caused a tremendous amount of anxiety for our families,” said Jeffrey Fuller, the director of admissions there. He added that the greater concern is the larger number of students who may not have stepped forward about delay issues and missed out on the opportunity.

Jim Rawlins, the director of admissions at the University of Oregon, also provided some latitude for students who had late scores and were applying for early action by Nov. 1. “We knew about it in advance, watched the impact, and were able to make sure it didn’t hurt students,” he said.

Rocky PSAT Rollout

Scores for more than 4 million students who took the College Board’s new Preliminary SAT/NMSQT exam in October were similarly delayed. The results were promised for December, but made available online Jan. 6 to schools and Jan. 7 to students. Then, some counselors had trouble opening the massive file report, and students were confused about the need for an access code to learn their scores.

Deb Donley, a school counselor at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., said because the test was new, counselors needed more time to get familiar with the new PSAT scores before having to help students interpret them.

College Board officials said the organization posted help resources for educators online and is trying to respond to concerns. Caldwell noted that in the six days after scores were made available 1 million high school students accessed their scores online. She said the expanded, interactive portal will be a richer resource for students trying to improve their college-readiness skills.

While the testing companies are trying to answer questions, they are not likely to disclose their behind-the-scenes troubles, said Joyce Smith, the chief executive officer of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. But counselors are feeling pressure from families for more information on results and delays. “We can’t make these groups do anything, except be aware there are problems and be as responsive as possible,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 2016 edition of Education Week as College Testing Season Marred by Score Delays, Snafus

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