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College Board erases its SAT-for-the-well-heeled-only mistake

June 05, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Local students preparing several years ago for the high-stakes SAT exam.
Local students preparing several years ago for the high-stakes SAT exam. (Los Angeles Times )

The College Board, which owns the SAT, blundered big-time when it agreed to give a special sitting of the high-stakes college entrance exam in August to a group of a few dozen students who will attend a pricey SAT-prep course at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Fortunately, it had a chance to erase this particular wrong choice -- and it did.

A Times editorial lambasted the College Board last week for providing this advantage to well-heeled students -- the prep course, which also includes campus tours, costs $4,500 for three weeks -- especially considering that the original intent of the SAT was to equalize the college admissions process. (Many students would prefer to take the SAT during the summer, when the prep classes tend to be offered and when school isn't in session, with its own demands on their time.)

The editorial also pointed out that the College Board has long said that expensive, short-term SAT prep courses don't raise scores much -- and then aligned itself with one of the most expensive of the short-term SAT prep courses.

College Board officials defended the decision -- and defended it and defended it -- by saying that this was a pilot program to help them work out the kinks of offering a full summer SAT sitting. They apparently didn't think the problem through: How much could they learn about the potential problems of administering a test to thousands and thousands of diverse students nationwide by providing it to a small group of gifted, affluent students in a cloistered setting? Worse, those students' scores would be labeled as being from the June testing, implying they'd gotten these scores while under the same pressures as all the students who actually took the test this month.

Tuesday, the College Board sent out a new answer to the question of what could possibly be right about any of this -- and the answer was (D) None of the above. Here's its statement:

When the National Society for the Gifted & Talented (NSGT) contacted members of the SAT® Program staff about offering the SAT through the NSGT University Prep summer program, it was viewed by those involved as an opportunity to evaluate the feasibility of a summer SAT administration, something that has long been requested by students and educators. Unfortunately, this initiative proceeded without proper consideration of whether all aspects of the program were aligned with our mission.

Given what senior management has learned in the past few days, we informed NSGT earlier today that it would be inappropriate for an official SAT administration to take place at the conclusion of the University Prep program. The College Board continues to support the NSGT’s mission to provide educational opportunities for gifted and talented youth of all backgrounds. However, certain aspects of this specific program run counter to our mission of promoting equity and access, as well as to our beliefs about SAT performance. The SAT was created to democratize access to education, and innumerable third-party studies have demonstrated that SAT performance is directly related to the type and rigor of course work pursued by students during high school. To send any other message, even inadvertently, is contradictory to our beliefs and decades of SAT performance data.   

The College Board was founded more than a century ago to promote access to and equity in education, and we are proud of the role our programs and services have played in helping students aspire to -- and succeed in -- college. As part of our mission, we regularly evaluate opportunities designed to increase college readiness and to help ensure that more students succeed in college. Whether opening additional SAT test centers in high-need urban and rural areas or introducing the rapidly expanding SAT School Day initiative that enables students to test in their home school on a weekday morning, our goal has always been to expand access to higher education for all students.

While we are still very much committed to exploring the concept of a summer administration, we will postpone piloting such an initiative until we can do so in a manner that better aligns with our mission and the students we serve. Steps also are being taken internally to ensure that future initiatives receive the appropriate level of senior management review.

In other words, some College Board higher-ups probably were given a failing grade on this one and told to brush up on their SAT prep in the future.

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