Lapses in SAT scoring and test security raise concerns

By Anna Yuan

When a Whitman senior sat down for the August SAT, he had a startling case of déjà vu. After reading the first passage, he realized he’d already taken the exact test three times for practice.

When he got home and saw #refundaugustSAT trending on Twitter, he quickly found out that The College Board had reused the international October 2017 Asia test, which had been leaked online by several Asian test prep companies. Many students had practiced with the test before it was administered in the U.S.

The August SAT wasn’t the College Board’s only recent major blunder. The June SAT was riddled with “unscorable” questions, resulting in a harsher than usual penalty for missing just a few. Normally, getting only one question wrong on the math section would equate to a 10 point decrease, if any at all. For the June test, it meant a 30 point drop.

Junior Bobby Xiao was frustrated by the administration of two faulty tests in a row.

“I was closely monitoring the August SAT after College Board messed up the June one,” Xiao said. “When I asked my friends who took it in August, they had done the exact same test and had the answer key beforehand when they were reviewing. I think that since they had advanced knowledge of the test itself, it’s really unfair to others who didn’t.”

Historically, The College Board had always administered new exams in the U.S. and only reused U.S. tests in international administrations. The August 2018 U.S. test marked the first time the organization reused a test domestically.

In 2016, the College Board also decided to start writing their own tests instead of contracting the Educational Testing Service to create them. This shift likely led to the abnormal scoring of the June SAT, when The College Board deemed two reading and two writing section questions too easy to be factored into students’ scores.

“They should not have given that test. It’s very simple,” Whitman English teacher and Prep101 tutor Ryan Derenberger said. “It’s not as valid as the others, and the others meet certain criteria and validity that has been consistent for years. [It was] poor judgement.”

The College Board grades SATs using “score equating,” which requires the use of statistical analysis in order to compensate for differences in test difficulty among different test dates. The College Board equates each test score prior to the administration date, so how students actually score on test day doesn’t affect the curve.

With each SAT costing 65 dollars, many students who took the June and August SAT are frustrated with The College Board because of their experience.

“We’re like customers who paid for a service that we didn’t get,” junior Samantha Leventis said. “We paid for them to make a new test, not just to proctor one. It’s literally their job to make a new test, which they didn’t do. It’s really frustrating.”

Many worry that The College Board and the SAT’s future credibility will be harmed after the June and August test issues. Some suspect students may begin turning to the ACT instead.

“You’re going to see a slew of tutoring organizations, teachers, and parents gathering and recommending to one another and to the students to just go with the ACT,” Derenberger said. “That’s much more sound historically and doesn’t experience those wide swings.”

Despite controversy, most colleges will still take the June and August SAT scores into consideration.

“We certainly understand the concerns of many students after the June and August SAT,” Vanderbilt senior admissions counselor Garth Parke said. “Our office has decided that if the College Board certifies the results of any of their exams as official and valid, we will consider them in our holistic process.”

In response to both the June and August SATs, students created hashtags #rescorejuneSAT and #refundaugustSAT on Twitter. After scores came out, The College Board released statements on Twitter, assuring students that the scores are accurate and they won’t rescore or refund either test.

For many students, this statement wasn’t enough. Some firmly believe that College Board should formally apologize to the public and take recognizable steps to prevent their mistakes on both the June and the August SATs from happening again.

“Every single time that they’ve encountered an issue this year, they’ve been adamantly refusing to apologize, which is a mistake on their part,” Derenberger said. “If they want to engender trust in the test taking public, they need to actually admit their wrong doing and take actionable steps to fix it.”