College Board Struggles with Controversy and Student Distrust

by Adam Levine ‘20

If you’ve taken any standardized test in high school, chances are you have interacted with the College Board. Though in recent months, the nonprofit organization has been the subject of multiple controversies regarding its SATs.

The June 2018 SAT marked the beginning of the recent backlash the College Board faced. The College Board’s system of equating, which, according to the organization, “makes sure that a score for a test taken on one date is equivalent to a score from another date,” left many June test-takers upset. Many students received scores much worse than they had initially expected.

When test takers receive their scores, it is accompanied by a breakdown of their score by each section as well as a description of each question, which contains the difficulty and subsection of each question and whether the student answered it correctly or not. This allows students to compare their growth over multiple tests by seeing the change in how many they answered correctly or not.

Angry students nationwide took to social media to berate the College Board’s actions. One solution many test-takers demanded was a rescore of their June tests, but the organization claims, “The June scores … are accurate—the result would be the same even if [they] rescored it.”

Senior Lexi Paulson was one of the many students who took the controversial June exam. “I think that College Board could’ve handled the situation better when they saw that people were really upset about the situation instead of essentially telling people to suck it up and deal with it,” Paulson explained.

For their subsequent exams, the College Board seems to be on a trend following their June SAT. The fall 2018 SATs have been relatively easier, made evident by how harshly the tests have been “equated.” On these more recent tests, incorrect questions have had more weight on one’s overall score than in years past.

Junior Laura Meng took the November 2018 exam. “The [scaling] for reading was much harsher than the one for August. When I compared scores with my friend, she got 13 more questions wrong, but only 60 points worse. I understand that it means that the reading must have been harder but sometimes it just seems like the [equating system] on the test negatively affect our scores,” explained Meng.

The controversies continued after the August SAT. While nothing has been confirmed by the College Board, it is widely believed by test takers that the exam was previously administered as the October 2017 international SAT and some of the questions off that exam were leaked shortly after. This means many students may have been tested on the same questions they used to study. Many test-takers see this as cheating, as some students gained an unfair advantage over their peers.

“It’s kind of crazy that College Board thought it was a good idea to recycle a test that was taken by kids that were still in high school and could still be testing,” said senior Claire Moran, who took the August 2018 exam.

After two controversies in just one year, many students have formed strong opinions about the organization. It also brings up many questions about the standardized testing process in general. “This has really only reinforced the feelings I already had,” said Moran. “While hypothetically a standardized way to compare students makes sense, its execution, and the fact it is left in the hands of major corporations, is questionable and has and most likely will continue to result in situations in which students suffer.”