This is a pretty incredible story. I wonder what changes it will encourage in the area of college admissions?
March 26, 2006
Colleges Say SAT Mistakes May Affect Scholarships
By KAREN W. ARENSON /NYTimes
At many colleges, the biggest impact of the mistakes made by the College Board in scoring the October SAT will be on eligibility for scholarships, not on admissions decisions, college officials say.
"With admissions, the colleges say they are practicing holistic review," said Donald E. Heller, an associate professor of education at Pennsylvania State University and an expert in student financial aid. "But with scholarships, some use flat cutoff points with the SAT score. They say if you score above 1,200 or 1,800 on the SAT, you are eligible for a scholarship. If you don't get that score, you don't get that scholarship."
Jennifer Topiel, a spokeswoman for the board, said on Friday that the board recommended that scores not be used that way.
But the reality is that they are used like that in numerous college and statewide scholarship programs. Dr. Heller said he found in a recent study that 7 out of 14 states that offered broad-based merit scholarship programs used specific SAT scores to determine awards, usually along with students' grade point averages. And, he said, many colleges that offered their own merit scholarships did the same.
Over the past two weeks, the board has revealed that because of technical problems in scanning the October exam, the scores of more than 5,000 students were inaccurately reported. It notified colleges of corrections for 4,411 students whose scores were too low — by as many as 450 points out of a possible 2,400 — but is not making changes for 600 other students whose scores were too high.
Christine A. Halloran, an assistant director of admissions at the College of New Jersey, called the scoring revisions a "nonevent" in terms of admissions because much of the decision-making "is based on the strength of the academic transcript."
But she said that under the state's merit scholarship program, which is tied closely to how students perform on the SAT, about five students would receive better scholarships because the board had raised their October scores.
The New Jersey program offers a sliding scale of scholarships that depends on a student's class rank and SAT scores. In-state students in the top 5 percent of their graduating classes, for example, are eligible for full tuition, room and board, plus a laptop computer, if they earn a combined score of 1,500 to 1,600 on the math and reading portions of the SAT. If their scores are from 1,450 to 1,490, they receive tuition, a laptop and a $2,000 stipend; from 1,400 and 1,440 they receive $6,500 and a laptop. Those with lower scores receive less. The amounts diminish for students with lower class ranks.
Franklin and Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa., which does not have a set cutoff for scholarship eligibility but takes the SAT scores into account, had one applicant whose score correction of more than 300 points meant the difference between a $5,000 scholarship and one worth $12,500.
"I know it is really hard for the public to understand why 50 points can make a difference," said Dennis Trotter, a vice president and dean of admissions. "But when it comes down to it, we might be looking at 200 students who might qualify for these scholarships, and they go head to head. There are a lot of intangibles. One of the quantifiable things is the SAT score, along with the high school record. A swing of even 80 or 100 points on the SAT could mean the difference between the highest-level scholarship or not receiving one at all, because it is all so competitive."
Still, some students say the revisions to the test scores do not compensate them for missed opportunities.
Jake DeLillo, a star lacrosse player at Yorktown High School in New York, received recruitment letters from more than 50 colleges last year, and he was particularly interested in colleges like the University of Massachusetts, which had strong lacrosse programs. But, he said, some of the coaches told him that his spring SAT scores were not high enough, and he needed to raise them about 100 points to be considered.
When he took the October SAT, he thought he had done well — until he got his scores. The results forced him to shift his search to other colleges, and he was accepted by the New York Institute of Technology, last year's national Division II lacrosse champion. Mr. DeLillo said he was looking forward to attending.
Two weeks ago, he said, the College Board told him it had understated his October results by 170 points. "It was definitely upsetting," he said. "People make mistakes, but this was a big one."
Copyright 2006The New York Times Company