Mar 16, 2015

5 very good reasons to be annoyed with the College Board

As the College Board scrambles to devise a new standardized test to address ACT infiltration into markets traditionally dominated by the SAT, management continues making administrative decisions designed to totally annoy the very constituencies sought as loyal customers—test-takers, high schools and colleges.

Call it arrogance or poor judgment, but the breathtaking sum of marketing dollars invested by the College Board over the past few months can’t make up for ignoring simple basics like issues of scheduling, cheating and timely delivery of scores.  And despite the glitzy press conferences and slick marketing materials, the test-taking customer base is slowly losing confidence and shifting attention toward the competitor’s product.

The College Board is taking a huge risk by so fundamentally changing its product.  And instead of charting entirely new directions, the Board has decided to create a clone—potentially a more difficult clone—of the ACT.  

It brings to mind hundreds of business school case studies on how Coca-Cola totally misjudged the soft drink market by introducing “new Coke,” in 1985.  Taking the market for granted and neglecting customer input resulted in total product failure and a return to the original Coke formula.  The market simply didn’t need or want a second sweeter-tasting clone of Pepsi.

Along similar lines, the College Board seems to be pressing forward without paying the least attention to rumblings in a market getting increasingly annoyed by management missteps.
And here are five missteps, which amount to very good reasons to be annoyed with the College Board:

1.  Cheating.  Despite plenty of negative press and loudly-voiced complaints by innocent victims of College Board policies, no substantive effort has been made to stop cheating in the international administration of the SAT.  Instead taking steps to discourage cheats by discontinuing the practice of “recycling” old tests, management has decided to simply withhold scores and delay reports to colleges which depend on them for decision-making.

2.  Confrontation.   By what appears to be a gentlemen’s agreement, the ACT and the SAT have traditionally chosen separate test dates between September and June.  This year, the College Board broke this agreement by scheduling a make-up test on an ACT test date in February.  This resulted in test-takers having to choose between the two tests with school-based test administrators left to pick up the pieces. Although a seemingly small “oversight,” this very intentional decision on the part of the College Board to commandeer a test date scheduled two years in advance signals a new era of confrontation between the two organizations.

3.  PSAT/NMSQT Scheduling.  The College Board recently announced that next fall there would be no Saturday administration of the PSAT.  There was no consultation with major school districts about the decision and no explanation as to why it was necessary, although it’s assumed to be an issue involving the redesigned test.  While Saturday administrations will resume in 2016, the unexpected change in schedule for this year is causing irritating and possibly costly reshuffling of staff and resources for those schools that simply don’t want to take up class time doing the College Board’s bidding.  Not everyone caught this announcement, but for those that did the response from those depending on the Saturday test date was loud and clear.

4.  Score Delivery.  The College Board has been a little shifty about when test scores and recalculated “concordance tables” can be expected after the first administration of the redesigned SAT in March 2016.  At first, the Board indicated that scores would not be available until June.  Since then, it’s been suggested that the target date would be some time in May.  Regardless, delays in getting the first scores to students not only causes scheduling issues but also raises concerns about the potential “quality” of the scores.  Clearly, the College Board is anticipating some issues and most students don’t want to be among the “Guinea pigs” used for calibrating the new test.  Nevertheless, March is usually a very popular test date for juniors hoping for baseline scores to use in devising college lists and scheduling spring break visits.  Note that similar long delays in score delivery didn’t occur the last time the College Board modified the SAT in 2005.

5.  September Test Date.  For years, the College Board has ignored requests for a September administration of the SAT.  It’s no secret that Early Decision and Early Action application options are becoming key to the admissions process.  And many colleges are slowly moving up these deadlines or are devising small application windows in the fall.  The October test date, especially when it comes later in the month, is simply getting too late to accommodate the needs of applicants and some colleges.  If the ACT can schedule a test date in September, why can’t the SAT?

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