Jun 8, 2015

College Board decides against scoring compromised sections of June SAT

The College Board and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) announced this afternoon that sections of the June SAT compromised by a printing error in test booklets would not be scored and that scores would distributed to students within the usual time frame.

According to a press statement, ETS informed the College Board shortly before noon on the day of the test that an error contained within standard test booklets resulted in conflicting instructions provided for two sections of the test.   

The time allotted for either section 8 or 9—multiple-choice Math or sentence completion Critical Reading depending on the edition—was incorrect in the student test books but correct in the script and manual provided to test center supervisors. 

In short, the instructions provided to students allowed “25 minutes” for completing the section, while the manual and script indicated the correct time of “20 minutes.”

As the error was noted at test centers across the country, responses varied among proctors and test supervisors.  Some followed the script and allowed only 20 minutes for the section, but others were more generous and permitted students to have the extra 5 minutes or 25 percent more time to complete the questions.

Although test centers are required to keep track of start and finish times for each section of the test, it seemed that tracking which students got how much time would be a practical impossibility, particularly as the logs are often not perfectly maintained.

Cancelling the test and/or providing a new test date were also considered.  In fact, rumors circulated that an alternate test date at the end of June had already been scheduled.

But at the end of the day, the College Board made the decision after a “comprehensive review and statistical analysis” to drop affected sections and stick to the original time line for delivering scores.

“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,” explained the College Board.  “From fire drills and power outages to mistiming and disruptive behavior, school-based test administrations can be fragile, so our assessments are not.”

The College Board went on to say that the test is constructed to include three equal sections of Reading and Math tests with roughly the same level of difficulty.  “If one of the three sections is jeopardized, the correlation among sections is sufficient to be able to deliver reliable scores.”

Robert Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing wasn’t completely convinced by the College Board’s solution.  “The College Board/ETS chose the course of least resistance by announcing they would score the test without an entire section."  

He adds, "That's great for students who will not be forced to take the exam again because of the test-makers' error,” and suggests that "FairTest would be interested in seeing the psychometric research justifying this decision." 

But test experts think this was probably the right thing to do.

"An additional 5 minutes on a 20-minute SAT section could have led to an increase of 10-20 scaled SAT points for certain students, which is a minor effect," said Jed Applerouth, founder of Applerouth Tutoring Services. "By eliminating a complete section, it does create reliability issues, but clearly the College Board felt this was their least disruptive option."

Unfortunately, test-takers aren’t so sure.

“How is this fair,” asked one student posting on College Confidential with concerns about how the deletion of a single section from the overall test score would affect the test’s “curve.”

Another suggested, “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)…I really wish more schools would go test optional.”

And FairTest no doubt agrees.

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