SAT fails-in-the-bubble

Mar 192006
Authors: Jake Blumberg

It turns out that every one of us was gambling with our futures when we took the SAT to get into college. Although we did not know it, we trusted our futures to a few folks in Texas responsible for grading the tests.

Boy, did we misplace our trust.

Recently, it was reported that more than 4,000 SATs taken in October had been scored incorrectly, with over 1,600 more still in question. Those numbers are comparable to almost an entire freshman class at CSU, all with incorrect tallies.

Can you imagine that? You wait for your score to come in the mail – a score that will play a huge role in determining your future – and when you open it up, your number is 100 points lower then it should be.

Sadly, the thousands of students affected by the failure did not know their scores were wrong right away, and some made decisions based on flawed numbers. Some students did not apply for certain schools, believing they did not have high enough numbers to get in; others did not receive scholarships and awards because the College Board failed to do its job.

When the College Board – the company responsible for proctoring the SAT – found out about the monumental mistakes, they responded with a statement on their Web site,, pointing out the errors comprised less then 1 percent of the 495,000 tests graded this year.

I guess they wanted to prove they could do the math required on their test, but if you asked anyone with the wrong score, I am sure they couldn’t care less what percentage they were of the entire testing population.

The group responsible for scoring the tests, Pearson Educational Measurement, apologized for the errors, and said that even a 1 percent error rate is too much. Together with the College Board, they have notified the affected students and the admissions departments of the colleges and universities that received the flawed scores.

In addition, the College Board graciously apologized on their Web site saying the Board “deeply regrets any anxiety and inconvenience that this problem has caused students, their families, and our members, particularly those in the admissions community.”

Many of the institutions involved have pledged to review the applications of the affected students, and said they will not let flawed scores keep students from being accepted, though no promises were made to any of the affected students.

This instance brings to light a major flaw in our educational system, and one that must be remedied quickly. Standardized tests play too large of a role in the admissions to not have an oversight process to ensure mistakes like this are not made.

The SAT is a tool designed to level the playing field, a tool to make sure everyone is measured in the same way, but when that standard itself is not held up, the whole system is useless.

In a March 15th, Boston Globe article, test industry observers said more errors are made than the public is even aware of and that the process must be fixed.

”Errors are proliferating, but unless it’s in the press, no one knows,” Kathleen Rhoades, a researcher at Boston College’s Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy, told the Globe.

It is obvious something must change. It is not unheard of for industries to have government regulation, to make sure the public is not violated by the companies involved. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) monitors radio and television companies, and there is no reason the testing industry could not have a similar oversight commission.

The SAT and ACT play too large a role in students’ futures to not have a safety net to catch mistakes that will alter the futures of thousands of students nationwide. Otherwise, colleges and students will never know if they are getting a perfect score or just a fill-in-the-bubble disaster.

Jake Blumberg is a technical journalism and political science double major. His column runs every Monday in the Collegian.

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