Aug 26, 2009

Score Choice™ Is a Total Disaster

Heating up the college counselor professional message boards of late has been an intense discussion of the meaning of SAT Score Choice™. I can't help but think a debate on the meaning of life might be much more fulfilling if not more easily resolved.

Billed as a gift from the College Board "[d]esigned to reduce student stress and improve the test-day experience," Score Choice has blown up into an incredible mess. Posts on various email lists positively bristle with frustration as counselors try to parse out meaning from a sketchy and badly conceived program. No one seems to have a handle on how to interpret guidance from the College Board muddied by stern warnings from colleges refusing to participate fully in the program. And senior year hasn't even started for most students across the country.

Fearful of continuing to lose market share to the ACT, the College Board threw together a program that was originally marketed as giving test-takers the option of selectively reporting SAT Reasoning and Subject test scores. On the surface, it sounded both simple and sensible. After all, the ACT had been offering "choice" since time immemorial, and it seemed to work fine. But something about the financial motivations suggested by a system that appeared to allow unlimited test-taking combined with the whiff of gamesmanship emanating from certain test-taking sectors began the program's decline into full-fledged chaos. Professionals in the field balked as the new program appeared to give advantage to those who could afford to take the test multiple times and shore-up performance with expensive test prep classes or tutors. Colleges rebelled once it became clear that part of their prerogative in score review was being usurped by the College Board. Students stopped automatically sending scores to colleges as they tried to understand the implications of various conflicting reporting requirements. And the rest of us stood back as the whole thing began to unravel.

So, now we're coming up against some deadlines. The Common and Universal applications came on line July 1st, and students are completing forms asking very direct questions about test scores. Early Decision applications begin to come due around November 1st, and the rest will need to be submitted early next year. Schools with rolling admissions would like to begin the process of considering candidates with benefit of whatever standardized test scores are available now. Confused about terms and conditions, students who would have ordinarily begun sending scores to schools or even completing applications are frozen in place. Those who thought they had a free pass to start taking SAT's in the fall of junior year are crying foul now that certain name institutions are requiring submission of all scores despite the original intentions of Score Choice. High schools that report SAT's on transcripts fear consequences of accidently sending a blocked score, and counselors are sensing a number of ethical issues on the horizon as the decision whether or not to send scores ultimately rests with the test-taker. Or so we have been led to believe.

The College Board is not making anything easier by providing garbled instructions and producing charts that look like a programmer's nightmare:

And imagine—this is followed by a 46-page list of participating schools and various school policies, which by the way, appear to be shifting as questions multiply. Here is a sample of what some area schools have posted:

College/University SAT Score-Use Practice Descriptions
American University Highest Section-Version 2
Catholic University Highest Section-Version 2
Christopher Newport University Highest Section-Version 1
College of William & Mary Highest Section-Version 2
George Mason University Highest Section-Version 1
George Washington University All Scores
Georgetown University All Scores
Johns Hopkins University Highest Section-Version 2
University of Mary Washington Highest Section-Version 2
University of Maryland College Park All Scores
University of Virginia Highest Section-Version 2

Unfortunately, the single best source of information rests with each college to which a student is applying. Read through all instructions, and if questions remain, contact the school directly. No one can make reporting decisions on a student's behalf, but you need to be clear with the College Board which option is being selected for which school. And, you need to be clear with yourself whether the option selected corresponds to the reporting requirements of individual schools. BTW, to take advantage of the four free score reports, students must provide school names and designate reporting options within nine days of taking the test. Is this really the way to reduce stress?

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