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SAT, Score Choice, and the Business of Standardized Testing

Today’s edition of Inside Higher Ed presents an excellent analysis of the College Board’s new policy allowing students to select which of their SAT scores they’d like to submit to colleges.

Ostensibly, this new policy is to alleviate the stress of taking the tests, and to give more power to students in the admissions process. However, at the same time, the College Board is telling colleges that they can have their own policies with regard to “Score Choice,” thereby eliminating any real “choice” by the students. Colleges still retain the right to see whatever scores they want to see.

As the article points out, the College Board is talking out of both sides of its mouth. To its student customers, it is saying, “we’re here for you…we care about your pain and suffering.” To it’s college and university customers, it is saying, “we’ll help you implement your policies and subvert student choice, if that’s what you want.”

Face it, folks. Higher education is a multi-billion dollar business in the USA. Colleges and universities act as businesses. The College Board is a company. It may be classified as a “non-profit” for tax purposes, but it has revenue goals like any other economic entity. And College Board competes in our capitalistic system alongside the ACT.

The problem is that the College Board has two sets of customers whose needs and interests are, if not diametrically opposed, at least in conflict. The College Board sits squarely between the colleges–who want ways to compare apples to oranges in an educational environment that is chaotically diverse–and high school students–who want the opportunity to present themselves in the best possible light with the minimum of stress.

My advice to clients is to not to get caught up in a frenzy. Test scores are important aspects of the overall application process, especially to the most selective colleges. While I have seen a few students make huge leaps in their performance on these tests, most make only modest gains–even after extensive (and often expensive) test preparation tutoring. I do not think that these tests are particularly fair. Nor do I believe that they are measures of aptitude or predictors of future success. And I applaud colleges who dare to move away from using them.

But it doesn’t do high school juniors and seniors much good to get agitated, indignant, stressed, or depressed. The tests aren’t fair? Well, life isn’t fair And it we may as well start learning this little fact at age 17.

So again, what do I tell my clients?
–Prepare the best you can.
–Make realistic goals based on the reality of the numbers.
–Develop a strategy to present yourself in the best light possible.
–Do not allow your test scores or grades to define you as human being.
–Remember that there are many paths to success–and it’s never too late to choose a different one.

In short, let the professional educators, policy makers, and people like me rail against the unfairness and silliness of it all. For now, just do your work, enjoy your life, and have confidence that you have many wonderful opportunities ahead.

 

Mark Montgomery
College Counselor

 

 

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