Sep 28, 2009

For NACAC, College Board, and Yale: Score Choice at the Convention

As various sessions at NACAC’s 65th annual convention grappled with larger philosophical issues of standardized testing in college admission, those of us in the trenches took every opportunity to seek clarification on the policies with which we must deal in the here and now. While I respect and appreciate the need for discussions of validity and bias, I spent much of my time wandering from session to session picking up bits and pieces of information on how the average high school student or counselor is supposed to interpret test submission policies and adapt these policies into coherent, responsive applications. It wasn’t easy.

At the NACAC trade show for vendors, I spent a huge amount of time discussing the issue of SAT Score Choice™ with its most ardent defender, Brian O’Reilly, Executive Director of the SAT. “Everyone hates change,” he confidently assured me. “Besides these kids are much more computer savvy than you are. They clearly understand the instructions.” While vaguely wounded by his suggestion that my inferior computer skills had something to do with misunderstanding or not understanding instructions related to SAT score report requests, I felt duty bound to advise him that the program was causing enormous stress for everyone involved, particularly the students. With a dismissive wave of the hand, Mr. O’Reilly counseled me to wait a year at which time he predicted everything would settle down. After all, the College Board was simply “responding to consumer requests” by introducing Score Choice. In response to my complaints about the PDF on score use practices and the college search profiles, he announced that staff was working diligently to make corrections and add colleges he claims “never responded” to repeated inquiries. “It’s not our fault if the information is inaccurate,” he asserted. “We can only report what they tell us.”

The folks at Princeton Review, in their session on Score Choice, expressed an entirely different point of view. With much to gain through increased use of test prep services resulting from changes in score reporting, Sonia Petrie stood firm in her belief that the College Board policy was nothing short of a cheap effort at gaining market share and increasing revenue from fees charged. “It needs to go,” said Ms. Petrie, who went on to predict it would not last beyond this year. Given Mr. O’Reilly’s commitment and the investment made by the College Board to date, that seems unlikely.

On a more personally satisfying level, the session entitled “Alice and Alex in Wonderland—Charting Their Paths in this Confusing World of Admission” confirmed my suspicion that colleges are largely unaware of the confusion and upset being caused by variations in test score reporting. After spending 4 or 5 staff meetings devoted solely to the issue of Score Choice last spring, Yale settled on its policy of requiring all scores. All scores—all SAT Reasoning, Subject and ACT scores. The feeling was that Score Choice encouraged repeated test taking and advantaged those who could afford to do it. While all scores have always been available to admissions staff, Marcia Landesman, of Yale University, assured the audience that what she saw on her computer was only the highest scores. Yes, she could dig through the folder, but what was the point in “looking for the lowest?” Ms. Landesman confirmed that Yale clarified its policy after receiving my suggestion that schools were making things unnecessarily complicated by not specifying their policies in plain terms. Several other schools including the College of William and Mary as well as McDaniel College have made similar changes. But the biggest news to come out of Ms. Landesman’s presentation involved reporting of ACT scores. Although all ACT scores must be reported, Yale applicants will only be required to submit one official ACT score report. Scores from other sittings may be self-reported on the application form. This is Yale’s concession to the extra cost involved in requesting additional reports from the ACT. I take this as good news/bad news, as the door opens a little further to potential abuse or ignorance of the requirement. Then again, if it took the fine minds of Yale 5 full staff meetings to parse out the meaning of available score reporting policies, I hope they can only imagine what confusion exists at the high school level.

Saturday's session entitled "Update on Admission Testing" added little information relative to Score Choice beyond what may be found in session handouts. Mr. O'Reilly went over the process of requesting scores emphasizing the ease with which students who "beta tested" the program handled all instructions. Unfortunately, his response concerning the process of sending scores from multiple "sittings" was a little unclear. NOTE: Students may elect to send scores from more than one sitting in a single report to an individual college or university. And, they may go back at a later date, change their minds, and send additional scores from however many sittings they wish. In other words, Score Choice may be used more than once in the process of sending scores to any single college or university. Clear? Nancy Rehling, of ACT Inc., was largely spared questions concerning changes in college score report policies, although she was aware of additional expenses incurred by students in many cases.

The NACAC Counselor College Fair produced everything from blank stares to defensive responses from colleges asked to consider making alterations in their web pages that would help students understand specific score reporting policies. Again, the prevailing view was “business as usual.” Because colleges and universities are very clear on their individual policies, everyone else should be as well. Schools missing from the College Board PDF and without complete College Board profiles suggested they would look into the problem—maybe. Those with the most restrictive score reporting policies had no solution for the cheating issue and were quick to remind that consequences for getting caught were dire.

So, the ball is slowly moving down the field. After a number of heated discussions in various NACAC sessions, it appears that colleges and universities are waking up to the role they are inadvertently playing in making the admissions process more complicated than ever. Yes, Score Choice isn’t their fault. But whether they opt to clarify policies, ensure the College Board correctly reports those policies, and make web searches simple and direct is under their control. While I’m not a lawyer, it seems to me that an ambiguous contract is construed against the writer. I think that this should also be the case with regard to SAT Score Choice. If colleges and universities are not clear on their websites, it is their fault—not the fault of the student if mistakes are made.

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