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The College Board, owner of the SAT, is dumping not one but two sections of the June 6 SAT because of printing errors in the instruction booklets given in the United States — and it has revised its explanation for what happened on that day when hundreds of thousands of students took the college entrance exam.

Students, parents and others are questioning whether final test results, which normally include scores from 10 sections, can be the same with two sections discarded. The College Board says that the results can be the same because the test is designed to collect enough information, even if the entire test is not scored. Test prep experts say this situation has never happened with the SAT before in the United States.

The errors have prompted some students to petition the College Board to allow them to retake the SAT in October for free, while some students and parents are discussing other options, including a class-action lawsuit, according to FairTest, or the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which alerted me to the change in the College Board’s statement. FairTest is also calling for the College Board to reimburse a portion of applicants’ registration fees because more than 22 percent of the items on the test are now not being scored.

Some students are reporting on social media and Web sites that when they called the College Board to talk about the problem, they were told that they can retake the SAT for free. A College Board official who answered some questions about this issue did not address whether students have been offered a chance to retake the SAT for free. There is nothing on the College Board Web site telling students they get to retake the test for free.

It is not known exactly how many students took the SAT on June 6, but about 487,000 people registered for it, and all are affected, said the College Board, which has the SAT administered by the Educational Testing Service, or ETS.

The board’s initial statement about the problem indicated that one section would be discarded. In a Q&A, one of the questions was: “How is it possible to not score a whole section and still have valid scores?” A revision of the statement now on the Web site has this question instead: “How is it possible to not score two sections and still have valid scores?  (Boldface added.)

The original statement also said that there were printing errors in either a reading or math section:

“[T]here was a printing error in the standard test books ETS provided to students taking the SAT® on June 6 in the United States. The time allotted for a specific math or reading section — either section 8 or 9, depending on the edition — was incorrect in the student test books but correct in the script and manual provided to test center supervisors.”

The newer statement says there was an error only in one section but that two sections were affected as a result:

The time allotted for the last reading section was incorrect in the student test books but correct in the script and manual provided to test center supervisors. The copy in the student test books indicated “25 minutes” while the manual and script indicated the correct time limit of “20 minutes.” Because of the way the SAT is administered, while the misprint appeared in the last reading section, students may have been taking the last math section in the same room at the same time, and also would be affected.

I asked Zach Goldberg, director of media relations for the College Board, whether June 6 SAT takers were being allowed to take the test in October for free, and he provided only a partial answer, not responding to the “for free” part:

As we’ve previously emailed, we take our responsibility to students very seriously. While students who tested on June 6 will receive valid scores, the next opportunity to take the SAT will be in October.

Asked about the number of sections now being discarded, he sent me the wording now on the Web site without mentioning that there had been a change.

This is what the Web site says now:

Q: What happened during the June 6 administration of the SAT?
Shortly before noon Eastern time on Saturday, June 6, Educational Testing Service (ETS) informed the College Board that there was a printing error in the standard test books ETS provided to students taking the SAT® on June 6 in the United States. The time allotted for the last reading section was incorrect in the student test books but correct in the script and manual provided to test center supervisors. The copy in the student test books indicated “25 minutes” while the manual and script indicated the correct time limit of “20 minutes.” Because of the way the SAT is administered, while the misprint appeared in the last reading section, students may have been taking the last math section in the same room at the same time, and also would be affected.

As soon as ETS became aware of the error during the administration of the test, it worked to provide accurate guidance to supervisors and administrators.

Q: Will my scores be available and still be delivered to colleges and universities?
After a comprehensive review and statistical analysis, the College Board and ETS have determined that the last reading and last math sections will not be scored, and that we will still be able to provide reliable scores for all students who took the SAT on June 6. We expect to deliver scores within the usual time frame.

Colleges and universities will know these scores are valid.

Q: How is it possible to not score two sections and still have valid scores?
The SAT consists of three Tests: Reading, Writing, and Math – with each test having multiple sections. To accommodate the wide range of incidents that can impact a testing experience, the SAT is designed to collect enough information to provide valid and reliable scores even with an additional unscored section within a test. From fire drills and power outages to mistiming and disruptive behavior, school-based test administrations can be fragile, so our assessments are not.

We have deliberately constructed each test to include three equal sections with roughly the same level of difficulty. If one of the three sections is jeopardized, the correlation among sections is sufficient to be able to deliver reliable scores.

Q: Who does this affect?

All students who took the SAT on June 6 in the United States are affected. This does not affect students who took the SAT on Sunday, June 7, or any SAT Subject Test offered that day.

 

That statement has a time stamp saying it was updated June 8, 2015, at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. However, I took the earlier statement (see below) from the College Board Web site late on the night of June 8. FairTest education director Bob Schaeffer said that Web archives show the statement wasn’t changed until at least June 9 and probably later. Tweets by the College Board to students on one of its Twitter accounts show that on June 9, it was saying that one section would not be scored:

But on June 10, the College Board offered a different answer to a different student:

Here is the relevant section of the earlier statement on the Web site, which was then replaced by the one above:

Q: What happened during the June 6 administration of the SAT?

Shortly before noon Eastern time on Saturday, June 6, Educational Testing Service (ETS) informed the College Board that there was a printing error in the standard test books ETS provided to students taking the SAT® on June 6 in the United States. The time allotted for a specific math or reading section — either section 8 or 9, depending on the edition — was incorrect in the student test books but correct in the script and manual provided to test center supervisors. The copy in the student test books indicated “25 minutes” while the manual and script indicated the correct time limit of “20 minutes.”

As soon as ETS became aware of the error during the administration of the test, it worked to provide accurate guidance to supervisors and administrators.

Q: Will my scores be available and still be delivered to colleges and universities?

After a comprehensive review and statistical analysis, the College Board and ETS have determined that the affected sections will not be scored, and that we will still be able to provide reliable scores for all students who took the SAT on June 6. We expect to deliver scores within the usual time frame.

Colleges and universities will know these scores are valid.

Q: How is it possible to not score a whole section and still have valid scores?

To accommodate the wide range of incidents that can impact a testing experience, the SAT is designed to collect enough information to provide valid and reliable scores even with an additional unscored section. From fire drills and power outages to mistiming and disruptive behavior, school-based test administrations can be fragile, so our assessments are not.

We have deliberately constructed both the Reading and the Math Tests to include three equal sections with roughly the same level of difficulty. If one of the three sections is jeopardized, the correlation among sections is sufficient to be able to deliver reliable scores.

Q: When will I get my scores?

We expect to deliver scores to students within the usual time frame.

Q: Who does this affect?

All students who took the SAT on June 6 in the United States are affected. This does not affect students who took the SAT on Sunday, June 7, or any SAT Subject Test offered that day.

Said Schaeffer in an e-mail: “To my eyes, this is definitive proof that the College Board is ‘making it up as they go in an attempt to stay one step ahead of criticism.’ All the more reason for the demand that the College Board make available for independent review any evidence they have that the decision not to score more than 20 percent of each student’s responses will have no impact on results.”

This is part of a letter that FairTest, a nonprofit group that works to end the abuse and misuse of standardized tests, is sending to students and parents who call about this issue:

The widespread belief that the College Board is going to score all but one section of the test is not accurate. In fact, they they have quietly decided not to score two sections — the final Reading and the final Math — without making a clear public announcement (https://lp.collegeboard.org/information-regarding-the-saturday-june-6-sat-administration[lp.collegeboard.org] — see the second Frequently Asked Question.  This policy is unprecedented in the history of the SAT and not justified by anything we have seen in the published literature about the test

FairTest agrees with you that, because of the timing disruption and subsequent scoring confusion, all students who sat for the June 6 SAT must be offered a free retake  In addition, test-takers should be reimbursed a portion of their registration fees to reflect the fact that reported June 6 scores will be based on fewer than 80% of the items they paid for.

Simple and appealing as it may sound, there is no plausible way to determine which students took the final two sections of the June 6 test without disruption. Proctor reports are not sufficiently reliable. And, in at least one center, for example, students were first told that they had 25 minutes for the section, then at minute 19 were informed they only had one minute left.

We do not yet know how admissions offices will view results from the June SAT. The first step toward restoring any credibility is for the College Board to make available to independent experts, including FairTest, evidence that not scoring two sections produces equivalent results to scores based on the full test.  If the College Board refuses this basic transparency, June 6, 2015 SAT scores will forever be questioned.

Finally, several test-takers, their parents, and attorneys who have contacted FairTest are considering class action litigation to resolve outstanding concerns.