SAT Score Errors: The College Board Made A Boo-Boo

Recent errors in results of SAT tests have caused concern for approximately 4,000 students who took the test last October. Technical problems resulted in lower scores, some by as many as 100 points for students at the height of the college application season. Some scores were higher than they should have been. A difference of that many points can affect college admission and scholarship eligibility for some students.

The College Board has begun to notify college admission officials, and expected to have that process finished by last week. Apparently the problem was with the scanning system for the answer sheets. Two students disputed the results in December, and this began the investigation. The College Board officials soon realized that they had a systemic problem, and it was not limited to a few tests.

Ooops. Uh, they made a boo boo.

It’s important to realize that the scoring problem affected less than one percent of all the tests that were administered last October. Nevertheless, the results for the affected students can have devastating consequences. The SAT score is a very important determination not only for college admissions, but for some scholarship programs. If the errors were discovered in late December, why did it take this long for the errors to be confirmed in the system, and for college officials to be notified?

Imagine that you are working in a college admissions department, and you thought you had the whole procedure of evaluating applications and admitting students, awarding scholarships, etc pretty much on track. Now, you have to go into overtime for employees to review applications all over again – because the SAT was wrong?

Having a standardized measure of what students know and are capable of is vital. A margin of error like this is unacceptable when so many decisions for young lives rest upon it, and when the operation of college admissions is disrupted. Standardized testing has become the vehicle for determining funding for schools, success for districts in meeting goals under No Child Left Behind, and of course, for college admissions. When the system allows for this much error, and this much time in tracking and reporting the error, the disruptive effect on students, colleges, and school districts can be devastating.

The College Board owes everyone a much better standard of accountability and accuracy.