The SAT's 5-Minute Mess-Up

After finding that some students received extra time on one of two sections of the test, College Board announces it won't score those sections.

June 9, 2015

The College Board announced Monday evening that two sections of the SAT given on Saturday will not be scored. There are enough other sections, the College Board said, to provide valid overall SAT scores for those who took the test that day.

The announcement ended an embarrassing day for the College Board -- one in which students traded rumors and complaints, some fearing that the entire test would be declared invalid.

On the two sections that will not be scored, some students received 25 minutes of time instead of the standard 20. SAT proctors were given instructions with the correct 20-minute time limit for the sections, which are in mathematics and reading. But the booklets given to students said that they had 25 minutes. At some testing centers, proctors enforced the 20-minute rule, but at others they let the students have 25 minutes. The result was a nonstandardized standardized test for those two sections.

The College Board announcement said the following: "After a comprehensive review and statistical analysis, the College Board and [the Educational Testing Service] have determined that the affected sections will not be scored and we will still be able to provide reliable scores for all students who took the SAT on June 6. We expect to deliver scores within the usual time frame. To accommodate the wide range of incidents that can impact a testing experience, the SAT is designed to collect enough information to provide valid and reliable scores even with an additional unscored section. From fire drills and power outages to mistiming and disruptive behavior, school-based test administrations can be fragile, so our assessments are not."

Over the weekend, test takers and their parents traded stories about how the SAT played out at their testing centers. Many imagined that it would be impossible to fairly score a test on which different students had different amounts of time. Others spoke of the stress of having to argue over time with a proctor during the exam.

Most of the comments on the issue on College Confidential, a popular discussion board for college applicants, are about the fear of having the entire exam invalidated. But these were posted before the Monday evening statement from the College Board.

Those posted after the announcement were generally negative about the College Board. Students noted that some individuals may have achieved perfect scores on the invalid sections -- and that those correct answers won't help them. Wrote one student: "How is this fair? What if a student missed a total of like 5 questions on the first 2 sections of math but missed 0 on the section that's being taken out?" Some wrote that all students should have been given a makeup test, while others said that the makeup test should be optional (and at the College Board's expense).

One wrote: "I think they are in CYA (Cover Your A**) mode. They are making it sound like they are so proactive with their test design that entire sections aren't needed. Please…. They don't want to offer another test (too expensive) and they want this to go away as quickly as possible (too embarrassing). Who cares about the kids and their scores?"

Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a prominent critic of the College Board, said via email that "the College Board/ETS chose the course of least resistance in choosing to score the test without an entire section."

While he said that was "great for students who will not be forced to take the exam again because of the test makers' error," he also said that the decision raised questions. "FairTest would be interested in seeing the psychometric research justifying this decision. If reliable and valid scores can be generated from June 6 exams despite a missing section, why do students at other SAT administrations have to spend the additional time answering questions that the test makers now say are unnecessary?"

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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