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Valerie Frankel Headshot

Damn You, College Board!

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It's been widely reported that the SAT administered at my daughter's school in Brooklyn on May 5, 2012, has been invalidated by the College Board. Two hundred kids from 50 city schools took the test at the Packer Collegiate Institute that day. It was the only site, worldwide, found to be in violation of the College Board's standards. And now, the juniors have to take the test again, this Saturday, with only four days to prepare, in Coney Island, a location that is inconvenient for all and nearly impossible to reach for some.

The unannounced inspector determined that, among other infractions that the College Board mysteriously refuses to share, the desks were too close together. In some cases, they weren't quite four feet apart. The SAT is, like football, a brutal game of inches.

Forget that the inspector didn't raise his or her objections on test day, when the alleged irregularities and furniture placement could have been fixed.

Forget that the school has been giving the SAT for many years, with the seating in the exact same arrangement, and not once found to be in violation of standards before.

Forget that the tests are scrambled, so kids on either side are taking different sections, thereby making over-the-shoulder cheating impossible.

Forget that the mandatory retesting -- again, only four days warning -- had thrown two hundred families into a tailspin. (Packer will thankfully supply bus transport to Coney Island and breakfast on Saturday.)

Even forget the emotional devastation for the juniors who'd spent months preparing to take the May 5th test, and thought they were done with the four-hour marathon of stress and anxiety. They had AP tests last week and finals next week. And now, surprise!, they have to get up at 6:00 AM to relive the nightmare.

As a parent of one of those kids, I'm trying to make it a teachable moment about resilience and rolling with life's inevitable ups and downs. After all, it's just one morning in her life...in the grand scheme, it won't matter... it's a first-world problem...etc. I know that the SAT has nothing to so with my daughter as a person, nor should it as a college applicant. She might understand that, but she still has to psyche herself up to do it again. It'll be her ninth time, counting six mock tests.

What makes me apoplectic about this SNAFU? The attitude of the College Board. I've had two conversations with reps now about the matter, and their overriding response is ennui. A telephonic yawn. They understand the complaints. They agree that a lot of these kids might be so thrown by the retake, that their scores will be adversely affected. They believe that the kids did NOT cheat, and couldn't have, as a point of fact. They acknowledge that only people who will suffer due to the officiousness of the inspector and the administrator's errors are 200 16- and 17-year-old kids.

The College Board does not give a shit.

I'm sure the kids, parents, the school (which has threatened to sue) wouldn't be as God damned pissed off if the College Board, in the cold letter to students informing them of this retest, had said, "This sucks. We feel for you. We have to be the bad guys, and we're sorry to make you do this." Not in those words, obviously. But to that effect.

But why should the College Board bother to show a modicum of sympathy or regret about the decision to torture 200 kids over a spasm of anal-retentiveness? It has a (not-for-profit) monopoly on standardized testing. Every student (and former student) in the country might despise the SAT, might reflexively cringe at the acronym. They might question whether it's a valid measure of anything but the ability to take the SAT itself, if the concept of a "standardized test" is impossible, given cultural and regional differences. But we have to swallow the SAT whole. The alternative is to protest by not taking it. The competition for college admission is so fierce, though, that giving the SAT the finger is a self-defeatist act. (Or ACT. Yes, there is that option. But, in our house, my daughter put all her eggs into the SAT basket. The idea of starting from scratch to take the ACT makes her want to scream.)

I guess it's too much to ask that the College Board -- the faceless, amorphous evil entity -- that makes billions on the hopes, fears, stress and sweat of children actually cares about their customers. Considering how much its customers care about the SAT, it should.