College Board’s effort to have ‘fun’ by sending cow stickers to schools falls flat

The College Board just tried to have a little fun with high schools but some college admissions counselors are less than amused.

The organization sent out to thousands of high schools around the country stickers with pictures of a cartoon-like cow and the words, “Gee Whiz” — a reference to a critical reading question on the recent PSAT which noted that some kids have never seen a cow.  After the October administration of the PSAT, formally known as the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test  and co-sponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation, students who took the exam took to Twitter to make fun of the cow question, with tweets like this one:

 

The same test also had a reading passage that said the words “Gee Whiz,” which kids also made some fun on in tweets.

Counselors said they recently received the stickers in an envelope with a letter that had no date or official letterhead. It said:

Dear educator, Your students participated in the PSAT/NMSQT, along with 3.6 million other students, and had a great time taking the test. Please help distribute these stickers, and thank you!  Sincerely, The College Board.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that at first some recipients thought it was a joke from someone other than the College Board, but the organization confirmed that it had, in fact, sent the stickers to some 23,000 schools — every high school where students took the PSAT — at the same time the test scores were being released.  An unnamed College Board spokeswoman was quoted by the Chronicle as saying: “We took the opportunity to have a little fun here.”

Some counselors were unamused. On a listserv shared by college admissions counselors at high schools around the country, some said the stickers were an unfortunate waste of money for a nonprofit organization. One said in an e-mail:

The fact that College Board thought this was a good marketing campaign leaves me baffled. These stickers are for first graders! What do they even mean? And what’s with the “cover letter?” No date, no real letterhead… I swear I thought it was a joke. “We are so glad you had a blast taking the PSAT?” – Ummm, our students didn’t have “a blast…” they paid for it, they dreaded it…  “We hope the PSAT/NMSQT is always this fun?” Ummm…. no, it wasn’t fun. I had students crying about their scores. College Board is making this a mockery! “Please distribute these stickers to your students?” Not at my high school….

 

Patrick O’Connor, associate dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., said in an e-mail to me:

It’s great to see College Board participating in PSAT chatter that was picked up on social media, but the real, and less expensive, win, would have been to respond to social media *on* social media. The Gee Whiz cow had the potential to join cult classics like Pedro for President; now it has the potential to be the bane of every high school janitor.

 

Some counselors sent e-mails on the listserv expressing incredulity that the College Board would do such a thing, and others couldn’t help but have some fun, sending messages with a subject line that included the words “udder confusion.”

The mailing had to cost thousands of dollars in postage, not to mention the sticker, paper and envelope costs. Quite the investment.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · December 11, 2013