College Board Needs to Return to Its Mission of Helping Students

06/14/2012 02:23 pm ET | Updated Aug 14, 2012
  • Dan Edmonds VP of Research and Development,

The first line of The College Board's mission statement claims that "The College Board is a national nonprofit membership association dedicated to preparing, inspiring, and connecting students to college and opportunity." But in two recent cases of disregard for SAT test takers, College Board has shown a remarkable tone-deafness to the students who, in principle, they exist to serve.

Last week, College Board backed down from a plan to implement an August SAT. Over-burdened students have long-wanted a mid- or late-summer test date so they could take advantage of increased free time during the summer to prepare. But College Board's plan was to offer the test only to the 50 or so students who signed up for a $4,500 preparation course at Amherst College. Rather than serve all students seeking higher education, College Board seemed more interested in presenting opportunity only to a narrow, privileged group.

And this weekend, bringing to a close a second instance of myopia on College Board's part, 199 students who took the May SAT at Packer Collegiate in Brooklyn will finally get to take the test again, nearly a month after they should have received their results, but didn't, because on May 15th College Board invalidated the scores. Initially, the only reason given was that the students' desks were too close together. They later added that the proctors were "inattentive." There was no evidence of any wrong-doing on the part of the students. College Board seemed far more concerned with rules and process than with what was best for those students.

In the case of Amherst College, it's hard to fathom how College Board arrived at the decision to offer a coveted August test date to such a small pool of privileged students. Even though College Board has a long history of criticizing test preparation companies, they chose to partner with the Princeton Review, one of the companies that they have singled out for criticism in the past. And though College Board and the SAT have had to defend themselves from charges of favoring more affluent students in the past, here they made a decision that unequivocally favors only those students whose families are wealthy enough to afford a $4,500 prep course. Once the decision started to receive national criticism, they changed course, but in the absence of that criticism, it seems likely we'd have seen the first-ever August SAT given only to a handful of affluent students.

In the case of the invalidated scores incident, the auditors present at the school who saw these various alleged improprieties could have stepped in to resolve the issues rather than punishing the students who, in all likelihood, weren't cheating. In fact, if the auditors were in the room to see the "inattentiveness" on the part of the proctors, then the auditors themselves presumably could have served to prevent any cheating. And they certainly could have informed the proctors that desks needed to be four feet apart.

College Board needs to make serious changes to return to its mission of helping college aspiring students across the board. Firstly, they must review the process by which they audit testing centers, training their auditors to make corrections on site that will resolve significant issues with the testing site. And if they absolutely must cancel test scores due to improprieties, the students and the school should be informed immediately, not nearly two weeks after the test date. Furthermore, as students and parents have been demanding a summer test for years, College Board needs to finally provide a summer test date nationally and to all interested students. If it must be tested on a smaller scale first, the pilot program should be more than 50 students, and it shouldn't have an exorbitant price tag attached to it. College Board's admirably student-centered mission statement would demand no less of them.