College Board Rethinks Error Policy

Company is reconsidering rule under which it won't correct mistakes in students' favor -- but not for those in ill-fated October cohort.
April 13, 2006

Of all those affected by the SAT scoring snafu, one group hasn't had any complaints: the 613 students whose scores were mistakenly reported as being higher than they deserved.

That's because the College Board, consistent with its policies, is not re-reporting those scores to make them accurate. The College Board's policy is based on the belief that test takers shouldn't be punished for a board error, and the fact that students unhappy with their accurate scores wouldn't have time to retake the test to try to raise the scores. (The board did give colleges revised reports on students whose scores were originally reported as inaccurately low.)

Those fortunate 613 from the October 2005 test are safe. But the College Board -- facing criticism and a lawsuit over its policy with regard to those test scores -- has announced that it is reviewing its policy on such errors.

Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, announced the review in an e-mail message to the association's members this week. In the e-mail, he said that the actual scores of these students would have declined by only 10-40 points when corrected. (Many of the several thousand errors in the other direction were substantially larger in magnitude.) While Caperton restated the reasons that the board was not changing the 613 students' scores, he also wrote that "at the request of some of our members," the board's SAT Committee would meet next month and review the practice.

Don't expect to hear protests from those 613 students about the review of the policy that has helped them. A College Board spokeswoman confirmed that they were never told that their scores were inaccurately high.

Most of the publicity about the SAT scoring problems has focused on those students who were told they had done more poorly than they actually did. These are the students who may have been mystified by their low scores -- and who may have scrambled to enroll in test-prep programs or to have adjusted their college plans. But a lawsuit announced last week has focused new attention on the other group of students -- those who benefited from the scoring errors.

The class action suit is being pursued on behalf not only of those with inaccurately low scores, but on behalf of people whose scores were reported accurately, but who had to compete for college admissions and scholarships with students whose scores were inflated. When those applicants who had accurate SAT scores are added, the potential class for the suit grows from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand. In an interview after announcing the suit, Joseph Snodgrass, a St. Paul, Minn., lawyer leading the effort, said that those students were victims, too.

“No one went into the SAT thinking they would have to compete against people with inflated scores,” Snodgrass said. One of the demands in the suit is that all incorrect SAT scores be re-reported.

The College Board has a policy of not commenting on lawsuits and so did not comment on the suit announced Friday, which is expected to be followed by others. But the e-mail noting the review of the policy of not correcting some scores came just days after the filing of the lawsuit that makes those scores a key issue.

The e-mail from Caperton was a regularly quarterly message he sends to members. In it, he also appeared to respond to criticisms that the College Board has failed to sufficiently apologize for the mess-up. He noted the "deep regret" of everyone at the College Board and expressed regret for the "additional stress and inconvenience" for test takers and college admissions officers. "We could not be more sorry that this happened," he wrote.

Later in the e-mail, however, Caperton used an analogy that suggested that the fiasco was more of an annoyance than the crisis of confidence that many of the board's critics see. In a long analogy, he compared the SAT scoring error to finding a rock in your shoe.

"This situation has tested us. It has tested me. It makes me think of the times when I have been walking in the countryside with a loved one and everything seems wonderful. Suddenly a sharp rock gets in my shoe and I want to keep walking along happily, but all I can think of is that sharp rock in my shoe," he said.

He went on to say that the College Board has historically "been very lucky" and not had such difficulties. "It has been as if we were walking along happily, with a cherished mission to guide us as we moved steadily toward serving more students and schools. But suddenly there was the sharp rock in our shoe and it was this unusual scanning mishap on the SAT Reasoning Test. It has not been easy to think of anything but shaking that painful rock out of our shoe."

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