Jun 17, 2015

College Board offers FREE retake but leaves many unanswered questions

After a fairly serious drubbing in the press and among standardized test experts questioning the validity of a partially scored exam, the College Board quietly announced a test “fee waiver” for students who took the botched June 6 exam.  So far, the waiver applies only to the October 3 test date, but allows students who don’t think they trust the June results to retake the test at the College Board’s expense.

Without repeating all the sad details of the June 6 SAT Reasoning Test, it’s fair to say that the small “printing error” found in test booklets distributed to thousands of test-takers has blossomed into a major problem for the College Board.  Even though the Educational Testing Service took the fall for the error and conflicting instructions on timing for two sections of the test, the Board has exacerbated the problem by coming up with a series of half solutions that raise more questions than they answer.

In fact, the College Board seems to be totally playing things by ear and responding to issues as they go along, instead of formulating a single well-thought-out strategy to cover how they intend to address the problem and help students make good decisions about what to do about it.  To date, the response has been piecemeal and largely directed to reassuring test-takers (and colleges) that results from June are good to use for admissions decisions. 

Although counselors on the College Board mailing list received an initial statement from the Board explaining what happened and assuring everyone that the tests were valid enough even if a section or two might have been compromised, all subsequent tweaks to the Board’s response to the increasingly complex problem have been in a series of edits to their website.

Last week’s edit advised test-takers that the compromised reading and math sections simply would not be scored. This was a change from the initial statement indicating only one section would have to be thrown out.  But don’t worry.  The College Board assures us that they “will still be able to provide reliable scores for all students who took the SAT on June 6.”  And they expect to deliver these scores within the usual time frame.

FairTest, however, begged to disagree.  How is it that 22 percent of the June SAT, administered to almost half a million students, can simply be dropped?  The decision not to score two entire sections of the test is unprecedented in the history of the SAT and seems less than comparable to the “fire drill” or electrical outage scenarios to which the situation has been compared.

This week, the College Board changed direction on the question of whether or not students who weren’t satisfied with having two sections of the test left unscored could have a free retake.  While suggesting that the delay in responding to requests for a retake was to save students the added stress of having to decide about sitting for the test again, the College Board writes that they have “waived the fee for the October SAT administration for students who let us know that their testing experience was negatively affected by the printing error….”

No further explanations or directions are provided.  And with the offer of a free retake, the matter of test validity seems even more questionable than ever, presumably leaving colleges with a great big question mark about June 6.  

At the end of the day, the College Board appears to be leaving the matter of retesting to the students and those who advise them.  But before making this decision, there are a number of questions that come to mind:

  1. Will students be allowed to see the June 6 test results before committing to the free retake in October?
  2. Is there a time frame within which retake requests must be made?
  3. In what form should these requests be made (evidently some students who contacted the College Board by phone have already been granted the waiver)?
  4. If a student elects to retest in October, will the earlier test be automatically deleted from the record?  Or will the student and/or colleges still have access to those scores? In fact, how will the decision to retest be reflected in the record?  This is obviously a huge matter for students applying to colleges that do not participate in Score Choice.
  5. Is it possible for families to request a refund for the June test instead of opting for an October retest (it appears that this may have already been an option for some)?  Again, if a refund is provided, will the test scores be cancelled and totally removed from the record?
  6. For those who decide to report June test results to colleges, will the timing and scoring problems be reflected in the record?  In other words, will the results appear with an asterisk (*) indicating that not all sections of the test were scored?

Rumors have been circulating about alternate or special make-up test dates as an option for June test-takers.  The College Board has scheduled a few make-ups at a handful of high schools in Alaska, California, New Jersey, New York, and Tennessee.  Most have been scheduled for June 20, and presumably they were scheduled to cover other kinds of problems encountered on June 6.  

For now, the College Board plans to offer no June retake for anyone else—it would be an extremely expensive proposition—despite the fact that scores from October will not be available until October 22.  This places extreme pressure on students, applying for certain scholarships or under various early admission programs, who worry scores will not be reviewable or available in time to meet some deadlines.  

By the way, the June test date is often very important for students deciding if and where to apply early.  Without benefit of scores they trust or want reported, students may face an additional application strategy problem.  Wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to offer a September test date?

But even if an official June (or September) retest were offered, questions remain about the reporting and validity of the June 6 test.  

So what should students who had negative testing experiences in June do?  Wait for the next chapter from the College Board.

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