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Summer SAT for group of elite students is canceled

College Board gives in after complaint from a San Mateo counselor that the plan to let a group of gifted students take the SAT this summer wasn't fair.

June 18, 2012|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times
  • Elizabeth Stone, along with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, wrote a letter to the College Board, arguing that giving a group of gifted students the opportunity to take the test in the summer gives them an unfair advantage.
Elizabeth Stone, along with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing,… (Meredith Charlson, For…)

It's not easy to go up against the College Board, the powerful administrator of the SAT. But that's exactly what Elizabeth Stone did — and she won.

In April, the San Mateo independent college counselor learned about a partnership between the company and a summer institute for gifted students. For $4,500, the students in the program would spend three weeks in a dorm at Amherst College in Massachusetts, take challenging courses and meet like-minded students from around the world. They would also be the only students to take the SAT, the college entrance exam, in the summer.

Stone, 52, was upset but reluctant to raise a fuss. She changed her mind, she said, after a test-prep teacher expressed similar concerns.

Along with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, she wrote a letter to the College Board, arguing that giving these students the opportunity to take the test in the summer gives them an unfair advantage — and they already have a leg up in college admissions just by taking part in the program.

The College Board initially defended the rare summertime exam by contending it was intended as a pilot program to evaluate the feasibility of administering summer tests.

But after facing sharp criticism, the New York-based College Board recently announced it would cancel the summer test. In a statement, the company said that the "initiative proceeded without proper consideration of whether all aspects of the program were aligned with our mission."

Although Stone welcomed the decision, she was still troubled that it took a complaint for the College Board to rethink its decision.

"I'm thrilled that they took this seriously and listened to what the public had to say," she said.

Apart from the exclusivity granted to those students whose parents are able to foot the bill, taking the exam in the summer would have spared them from taking it during the school year when anxiety and stress levels are high, she said.

That's a reason to have a summer exam for all students, Stone said.

"They would be much more well rested and have far less anxiety than during the school year," she said. "It gives a mental health advantage."

The demand and interest is there, but holding a summer exam creates logistical challenges, said Kathleen Steinberg, a College Board spokeswoman.

The tests mostly are given in high schools and proctored by teachers and staff. But many schools are closed in the summer, and faculty is on vacation.

Asking the schools to open and finding enough staff to administer the SAT on a summer weekend is a tall task, Steinberg said.

"We're always looking at ways to expand access to the test to more students, in more places," she said. "There is an interest in it, but we have to weigh all the logistical issues."

Stone begins working with students during the second semester of their sophomore year, charging a flat fee of $3,500 through the completion of the admissions process.

She said she knows firsthand the toll the race for college admission takes on students and parents. Many families spend inordinate amounts of money for test-prep classes and tutoring, she said.

Recently, a couple came to her to begin college plans for their kindergartner. She turned them down.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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