Error in Math Scoring on May SAT

Some test takers have received good news -- their scores are going up. But could all test takers have figured out how to report the problem?

June 3, 2019
 

Some of those who took the SAT in May are getting good news: their scores are going up.

The answer to one mathematics question didn't include all of the correct answers, so those who picked one of the correct answers did not receive credit for a correct answer.

The College Board did not announce the error but notified students whose scores went up.

One student posted the notice from the College Board on Reddit, and a College Board spokeswoman confirmed the authenticity of the post. The post said that, for all test takers who had their scores reported to colleges, the College Board would send an updated score this week. The notice also gave a website where those receiving the notice could see their new scores. The student who posted the notice to Reddit reported having a mathematics SAT score go from 790 to 800. That student appears to have had only one incorrect answer (the one that turned out not to be incorrect). The points gain for some students with more than one incorrect answer may be 20 points or more.

The positive changes on some students' scores will not affect the scores of other students, the College Board spokeswoman said.

Actual errors in SAT scoring are rare and have not typically involved questions of whether a given answer was correct, but on a scanning error that did not count a correct answer. In 2007, the College Board and NCS Pearson agreed to pay $2.85 million to settle a class action involving more than 4,000 students who had tests scored incorrectly because answer sheets had become moist, resulting in problems with scoring.

Discovering the Error

The College Board did not respond to questions about how the error was discovered or what the question was about.

But Adam Ingersoll, founder of the Compass Education Group, shared on a private discussion group information about the problem, and he shared his analysis with Inside Higher Ed.

"The offending question was in section 4, math w/ calculator. No. 35 in this section is one of the harder free-response questions, which often have multiple correct answers. Question required you to evaluate a data set, understand the sequence of items in that data set, and then report one possible value of the median in that set. Median is the middle value. When a set has an even number of items, there are two middle values. The common rule is to then take the average of those two values to find the median. This means that even if every item in the set is an integer, the median may be a fraction. [Median of {1,2,3,4} is 2.5.] College Board failed to allow for noninteger solutions (or to exclude nonintegers in the problem's conditions, or make it a multiple choice question … there were many possible fixes)." (The question appears at bottom of this article.)

Ingersoll said that Compass reported the problem to the College Board, and that officials there acted quickly to acknowledge the error.

But he said that the incident was another example of the way standardized testing favors wealthier students over others -- and he noted that small changes in scores can make the difference in eligibility for some college scholarships.

"What were the circumstances around this coming to light?" Ingersoll wrote. "Well. Let's be specific: it was spotted by a $200/hour Compass tutor working with a kid at a $44k/year private school in a painstaking review of his May SAT as part of an exhaustive process to make sure his test scores absolutely get maxed out. This tutor is supervised by my co-founder Bruce Reed, who happens to know exactly where to go inside the [College Board] hierarchy to get something like this fixed ASAP. In this case, all of the privilege and access will equally benefit everyone who took the test. Yay. #winning."

He added, "But think about the implications. The May administration of the SAT is the only exam that is released publicly to all test takers … There is a double-digit number of tests administered every year that never see the light of day (remember that test prep people -- known figures -- are now no longer allowed to take the test on these dates). Do you think that all errors are caught?"

Read more by

Back to Top