Jun 1, 2012

College Board Scores 'Low' on Fairness with Special Tests for Connected Students

Maybe Fitzgerald was right.  The rich ARE different from you and me. 
And so too are the “gifted and talented.”  Or that’s what the College Board would have us believe.
So special in fact that they are entitled to an exclusive administration of the SAT, limited to participants in a wildly expensive summer camp program targeted to the rich and the very smart.
According to a press release issued from the National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT), the NSGT “will administer the SAT at no additional cost to the participants of NSGT University Prep, a 3-week intensive college preparatory program at Amherst College held each summer.”
The release goes on to note that the same test will be made available to participants in the Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) program—also located on the Amherst Campus—for a $49 fee.  But when you’re already paying $4,495 ($3,795 for commuters) for the privilege of participating in a high octane SAT prep program, who’s counting?
“The partnership between NSGT University Prep and the College Board is an historical one,” states Barbara Swicord, Ed.D., President and CEO of the Summer Institute for the Gifted and a member of the NSGT Board of Trustees. “For the first time, students are able to take the SAT during the summer months and in addition, they will experience an enriching program that will better prepare them for the college admissions process.”

But who are these gifted and talented students?  In addition to being well-off enough to afford steep registration and enrollment fees, NGST program participants must
  • Have a GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Score at the 90th percentile or above on any major content area or ability section of a nationally-normed standardized test administered by their school
  • Provide one letter of recommendation from a current high school teacher in any area, a counselor, or a high school administrator who knows the student
The bar is somewhat higher for the SIG participants who must score at the 95th percentile or above on a standardized test, although if no test scores are available, two letters of recommendation can be submitted.
In other words, there’s not much agreement about who qualifies for the special August test date other than the ability to pay.
For years, the College Board has resisted calls for a summer administration of the SAT, when the pressures of school work and extracurricular activities are off.  The fact is that the College Board relies heavily on schools to run the SAT, and staffing isn’t readily available during the summer months without incurring additional expenses and headaches.
But what better way to get around these problems then by partnering with a group more than willing to pay the freight for the added benefit of taking the test immediately after completing an intensive prep program and without the usual school-year distractions.
And for rising seniors, think of the advantages inherent in having a set of scores to consider long before early action or early decision deadlines kick-in.  The lateness of the October test date has long been a problem for seniors backing up on deadlines while finalizing school lists and application strategies (the ACT offers a much more helpful September test).  Having additional information about scores just after the Common Application goes live could be a real help for some.
Caught in an embarrassing situation and taken to the woodshed by FairTest with the help of Elizabeth Stone, a California-based independent college consultant, the College Board quickly ran for cover calling the program a “pilot SAT administration,” in response to complaints about its sponsorship of an exclusive summer camp open to a few wealthy families.
And to avoid having these scores stand out in the eyes of college admissions readers, they’re considering labeling them as June, 2012 test results for purposes of reporting.  That’s just plain dishonest.
But what they haven’t addressed publicly is how a special administration of the test taken by a handful of rich, smart, intensively prepared kids will be factored into their system of “equating” and scoring.  And what does the direct association with for-profit test prep companies say about the College Board’s core belief that the test can’t be “beat” by using the services of these organizations?
Unless the College Board opens the August 3 test date to a more diverse and less controlled group, right-thinking colleges should consider how a few privileged families were given license to circumvent the system.  At a minimum, colleges should demand that the results be properly labeled with the scarlet August, 2012 date stamp and call them what they are—tests for folks who “are different from you and me.”

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