College Board to offer free SAT after administering exam with faulty instructions

USA TODAY

By Lea Giotto
June 23, 2015

The College Board has announced that it will allow high school students who took the SAT the June 6 exam to take the October 3 exam for free, after the organization had to discount two sections of the June exam due to incorrect instructions for those parts.

The instructions on the last section of the June 6 exam incorrectly stated that students would have 25 minutes to complete the section — the correct amount of time should have been printed to reflect a 20 minute time period. Educational Testing Services —the company that provided the test booklets for all of the students taking the test that day —reported the error to the College Board.

Approximately 487,000 students took the SAT exam on June 6, one of them being Todd Doyle, a rising high school senior from Sewickley, Penn.

“Although the printing error regarding the time allotted for my final reading section was minor, it was enough to confuse me about what kind of questions to expect. Any student who spent sufficient time studying for the SAT should have caught that mistake,” Doyle says.

The College Board, however, is still confident that even after discounting the affected sections, it will be able to provide accurate scores to the students who took the SAT on June 6.

“After a comprehensive review and statistical analysis, the College Board and ETS have determined that the affected sections will not be scored and we will still be able to provide reliable scores for all students who took the SAT on June 6,” says Zach Goldberg, Director of Media Relations for the College Board. “We expect to deliver scores within the usual timeframe.”

Goldberg says that the Board will not have a problem appropriately scoring the exams because all of the sections of the SAT — which include Critical Reading, Writing and Math — are “designed to collect enough information to provide valid and reliable scores even with an unscored section.”

It is not just faulty exam instructions that have some concerned . Many people are criticizing the company’s method of handling the situation, saying that because their announcement to waive the October 3 exam’s fee was so quiet, students eligible to take the exam for free may not even know it.

Dr. Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of Ivywise, a college admissions counseling service, believes the College Board has handled this incident poorly.

“It is very obvious their response was not thought out and their top priority was saving face, not transparency,” Cohen says. “The College Board’s response was sluggish and confusing. It took them almost three days to properly address the problem and let parents and students know what would happen.”

Cohen thinks that the College Board’s announcement of this incident was so quiet in an effort to minimize backlash — both financially and socially — towards the company.

“It is bad business financially for the College Board to have to re-administer a test for free to that many students nationwide,” she says. “A quiet announcement (with vague instructions on how to re-register and by when) serves as a barrier to many students who otherwise would have liked to re-take the test for free.”

Cohen also believes the incident will affect how high school students and their families perceive the legitimacy of the College Board in the future.

“If they have mistakes like this on the current test, how can anyone have faith that there won’t be much greater room for error on the new test, when glitches or mistakes are much more likely to creep in,” Cohen says.

The SAT will be introducing a redesigned exam in 2016 in the hope of slowing the ACT’s increasing popularity. According to Cohen, in 2013-2014, 1.8 million students took the ACT while only 1.7 million took the SAT. The ACT has maintained its status as the dominant college entrance exam since 2012.

Doyle’s mother, Melissa, is one of the parents who feels let down as a result of the June 6 SAT.

“The SAT failed our kids and they will likely be scored unfairly which can change the course of their life, and that is completely unfair,” she says. “The curve for the October SAT is also tougher so it will be harder to get the best scores then for all students.”

The free SAT being offered in October also presents another problem: high school seniors who plan to apply to schools before their Early Decision or Early Action deadline may be forced to submit applications with their SAT score missing.

Doyle feels as though because application deadlines will be approaching at the time of the October exam, he feels like more will be riding on the October exam than was on the June test.

“I suppose it puts more pressure on me to get really good scores in October considering it’s the last time I will take the SAT before applications are due,” he says.

Cohen realizes that many high school seniors probably feel frustrated in light of this situation, but she encourages them to stay calm.

“It is not ideal timing for rising seniors as they enter into application season, but colleges know there is a problem and will work with students accordingly as the situation unfolds,” Cohen says. “Colleges want students to have ample opportunities to craft the best application possible, and this will not destroy students’ hard work.”