The 3rd, 4th, or maybe 5th Time’s the Charm? SAT Allows Students To Choose Best Scores (page 3)
Taking the SAT multiple times has widely been regarded as risky business. Since every score is recorded on the student’s College Board transcript, then surely it is best practice for students to be conservative, keep blemishes off their records, and avoid testing too much. Therefore, it’s no surprise that only 15% of students who take the SAT will presently sit for it three or more times.
That number, however, is about to get a big boost since the College Board’s recent (June 2008) announcement of its new score-choice policy for the class of 2010. This fall’s junior class and all successive classes will now be able to take the SAT and SAT Subject tests multiple times, record all of their scores on a College Board transcript, but then choose to send to colleges only their best scores from one administration while effectively suppressing scores from all others.
This score-choice option, long practiced by the ACT (the SAT’s one and only rival), now allows students to test consequence-free. Admissions officers will never know how many times a student tested; they’ll only know that the scores they receive are what the students chose to send, whether those scores result from one test administration or ten test administrations.
In other words, if that proverbial 3rd time isn’t quite yet the charm, then maybe that elusive, charming score awaits the student after the 4th, 5th, or 10th time? There’s little to stop students from try-try-trying, if at first they don’t succeed. Well, there’s little to stop them save three things—money, a commitment to academic balance, or the will to try—and herein lies some controversy.
Many high school counselors and college admissions officers argue that score choice benefits only the most affluent students whose parents can pay for SAT’s hefty fee of $45 a sitting. "This creates a penalty-free way for applicants who can afford the price of the test numerous times to shop for their best scores. For those students for whom cost is not a barrier, this is a tremendously good thing," said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
Although the College Board waives and adjusts fees for some students on scholarship, access to everything from information about how to use score choice to a student’s advantage to expensive test preparation methods that could benefit the student’s repeated performances is not universally available to all. So, one major criticism is that this score-choice option further un-levels an already un-level playing field.
A commitment to academic balance
Another concern is that the new score-choice policy will encourage students to focus excessively on the test, while putting off their academic commitments. At a gathering of college counselors over this past weekend, the news broke regarding score choice, and one counselor summed up the group’s general sentiment: “I will have to remind my students that, despite College Board’s decision to go score choice, G.P.A. remains more influential in the decision an admissions committee makes---and that’s the decision that matters most.”
Students need to remember that, if they become too focused on testing and retesting, they may miss the forest for the trees. It is, after all, the whole child that gets assessed, not simply an SAT score. What’s more, it’s worth noting that while a college or university may not realize how many times a student tests, that student’s high school college counselor will. A student’s score report is sent to the college-counseling department at his or her school every time a student tests. Although college counselors do not release these scores to colleges and universities, those counselors do know when and how a student has tested.
Let’s not forget that a student’s college counselor is ultimately that student’s champion, writing a valuable letter of recommendation and advocating for that student to admissions committees. It’s best to represent to this college counselor an image of balance, a student committed to academic success, not obsessed with standardized testing. The moral? Feel free to try again but do proceed with caution.
The will to try
Although there are good reasons to be skeptical of the College Board’s score-choice decision, there is of course some value to be found in a score-choice policy when it comes to testing and young learners. For those students who are anxiety-ridden or learn best through trial and error, score choice offers the opportunity to optimize their returns by ultimately displaying what they are truly capable of learning over time under stress-reduced circumstances. And for those students who are not natural savants—and that’s most students—a gradual process of practicing and improving offers a more realistic opportunity to learn. Like the educational process itself, testing becomes a journey towards perfectibility, never defined or reduced to one critical moment.
For those teachers among us who still believe in this perfectibility of our young people, score choice offers the opportunity for the young and aspiring to cut their teeth, slip and fall, pick themselves up, and simply get better and smarter and show it. We all want to cultivate that adventurous, audacious, and transcendent will to try.
At the end of the day—without ignoring all of the legitimate controversies and qualifications attached to College Board’s decision—one acknowledgment must be made: there is something appealing about a policy that has at its heart that timeless pedagogical affirmation: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Reprinted with the permission of Academic Approach. © 2008 Academic Approach.
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