EDITORIALS

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January 27, 2009

Running up the score

In addition to scrapping the College Board’s program, the Office of College Admissions should go one step further: Admissions officers should amend their current policy and consider as many of a student’s scores as the circumstances warrant.

At a school that prides itself on its ability to discover and nurture unique characters and mold-breaking scholars, it makes sense that admissions officers ask for more information than their peers normally would. The U of C celebrates the “uncommon” aspects of our application and admissions process—not only are high school students asked to respond to famously off-the-wall essay questions, but they are encouraged to write about their favorite art and media and submit creative writing or scientific research.

More than anything else, the University markets its admissions process as one that strives to paint a comprehensive, detailed portrait of applicants—which is why its recent decision to participate in the College Board’s SAT Score Choice program is disappointing. Under the program, which will launch this March, high school students will have the ability to choose which set of scores is reported to universities, enabling applicants to hide both low scores as well as the number of times they took the test.

The adoption of the Score Choice program underscores one of the flaws in the University’s current system. As it stands, the University’s stated policy is to only consider the top individual score for the math and verbal portions of the test. In addition to scrapping the College Board’s program, the Office of College Admissions should go one step further: Admissions officers should amend their current policy and consider as many of a student’s scores as the circumstances warrant.

The new program—and the University’s old policy—deprives admissions officers of potentially relevant information in evaluating applicants. More often than not, a student’s top scores are a representative sample of his abilities. But if a student has taken an exam 10 times or produced one high score that was wildly inconsistent with previous efforts, the University should have that information at its disposal.

While the College Board bills its program as a gift for students, the primary beneficiary of Score Choice is the College Board itself. By erasing testing history, the company removes the disincentive for students to take the exam repeatedly in hopes of inching their scores higher and higher. Since scores typically improve with each retaking of the SAT, motivated and rational teenagers with a few dollars to spare will take the test as many times as possible, enriching the College Board’s coffers but devaluing the exam’s usefulness and accuracy as a relevant point of comparison for applicants.

Just as the program benefits students able to take the test as many times as they wish, it unnecessarily harms the economically disadvantaged. Since the College Board only provides two fee waivers per individual, those who cannot afford to take the exam again and again will find entry into competitive universities even more difficult. In fact, a program similar to Score Choice offered for the SAT II was discontinued in 2002 because such an economic disparity quickly became evident. The policy is especially jarring in light of recent efforts by the University to broaden its appeal to low-income students, such as its switch to the Common Application.

Fortunately, universities are given the choice of whether to accept Score Choice reports, and many—including Stanford and Penn—have decided against the practice. The Office of College Admissions should join their ranks and reject the shortsighted Score Choice program.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and two additional Editorial Board members.