January 9, 2009

U of C embraces SAT program allowing students to hide low scores

Starting this March, U of C applicants will be able to pick their best SAT score and hide embarrassing re-tests from admissions officers. Score Choice, the new SAT system, will replace the current policy mandating scores from all tests be sent to colleges.

But there is a catch: Individual schools can override Score Choice and continue to demand all scores.

The U of C is among several colleges that have said that they will honor Score Choice. Several peer schools, such as Stanford, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania, rejected the policy and have announced that they will require scores from every test an applicant takes.

Though the College Board, which administers the SAT, has said that Score Choice is intended to relieve pressure on high school students and parents, the decision has renewed an old debate about the fairness of testing. Critics say that by encouraging students to take tests over and over without consequence, Score Choice will favor wealthier applicants who can afford to take multiple $45 tests, along with months of expensive preparation. The College Board currently offers waivers allowing two free SAT tests for students with financial need.

Although the Midwest has traditionally been a bastion of the other college entrance exam, the ACT, the U of C still receives SAT scores from about 80 percent of its applicants, according to the Princeton Review. The U of C admissions office was not available for comment.

At the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, public education director Robert Schaeffer described the Score Choice policy as a “double-edged sword.” He sees a discrepancy in the way Score Choice is marketed, promoting the impression that students have total control over their scores.

“It’s marketed as more consumer friendly, that a student won’t be haunted forever by one bad score…[but] the overall result will be an increase in confusion and stress,” Schaeffer said.

Other critics say that without context, eliminating score history will give admissions officers an incomplete profile of a student: A good score could be the result of raw talent and a single test, or dogged perseverance and five tests.

According to the College Board, more than 1.5 million students took the SAT in 2008, and about half of those took it more than once.

The new policy mirrors the ACT, which has allowed students to send only their best scores to a school, though unlike Score Choice, colleges are not allowed to override the policy.

College Board marketing representative Alana Klein said in an e-mail interview that the non-profit company is working with colleges to display their SAT score-use practice directly to students on the Internet.

“This way, students will be able to see how colleges use scores and can then send the appropriate scores,” she said.