October SAT Scores Were False for 4,000 Students

Times Staff Writers

About 4,000 students who took the main SAT college entrance test in October received incorrectly low scores because of errors in scanning their answer sheets, the College Board said Wednesday.

The board, the New York-based nonprofit that owns the high-stakes test, said the problem affected less than 1% of the roughly half million students who took the exam that month. The disclosure came just as many schools are making final decisions about which applicants to accept -- and as anxious students wait for word.

For individual students, the scoring discrepancies ranged from 10 to about 200 points on the 2,400-point exam, with most of the errors from 10 to 40 points, said Chiara Coletti, a board spokeswoman.


She said the board this week has been notifying college admissions officials and high school counselors and Wednesday sent e-mails to the affected students.

Beatrice Bradley, a high school senior from Chester, Conn., was shaken by news that her scores had been misreported, even though the 10-point bump she received for the October test will not affect her college prospects.

The board “found this, but what else didn’t they find? All those thoughts go running through your head,” Bradley said.

Even with the revision, she said, her best overall SAT score came from an earlier testing session.

“We’re trusting them to take care of everything and then we find out that they messed up to such a big degree,” Bradley added. “For a high school senior, the SAT is a pretty big deal.”

Bradley also said she was surprised that she heard about the error first from a college to which she applied, Pomona College in Claremont, rather than the board.

“I didn’t even know there was an issue with the scoring,” said Bradley, who has heard from two of the 12 colleges she is considering, and was accepted by both. “I was kind of freaked out.”

Coletti said she would not speculate about what produced the inaccurate results, which were first reported by the Associated Press and the New York Times, but indicated there were several factors.

“We feel badly that this occurred at a time when admissions directors are working hard to make their final choices, and we’re asking them to make sure these students are in no way penalized,” she said.

The board will refund the students’ registration fees, as well as all charges for sending their scores to colleges.

Coletti said the board first learned of the problem in December when two students questioned their scores. As officials investigated, they discovered that the issue was “systemic” and could affect more students.

Coletti said the organization acted as quickly as it could, but some in the high-pressure college admissions field were critical of the response.

“It appears to be one of the largest problems of this sort the College Board has ever had, and then they wait months to tell anyone,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a group that opposes most standardized testing.

Schaeffer said the errors could affect not only college admissions but scholarships, many of which partly depend on SAT scores.

While there have been similar problems with scoring in the past, Coletti said, including on an SAT subject test in chemistry last year, none has affected so many students.

This time, the problem scores occurred across the country, with 71 in California. Scoring errors occurred in all three multiple-choice sections of the test, she said, but not on the handwritten essay portion.

A very small number of students, not included in the 4,000, received incorrect scores that were too high, she said. Those scores will not be changed.

On college campuses Wednesday, officials scrambled to reevaluate applications after learning of the problems.

UCLA admissions director Vu Tran said the school had been notified that 39 of its applicants -- of more than 47,000 -- had incorrect test scores. With acceptance and rejection letters expected to be sent out within a week, all of the affected files were being reviewed, he said.

Tran said he could not say how the errors might affect admissions, noting that the SAT is one of a number of factors considered.

At USC, the dean of admissions and financial aid, L. Katharine Harrington, said 61 of the school’s 34,000 applicants were among those affected, but only three had scores that were altered by 100 points or more.

Harrington said USC immediately reviewed the three applications, but none warranted a change in status.

Bruce Poch, dean of admissions at Pomona College, said his initial reaction to the news was that “these are small changes, and it’s not such a big deal.” Later, however, Poch said he started to wonder how many early-decision applicants may have been rejected because of the scoring errors.

“It’s also not clear how many kids may have looked at their scores and said, ‘Oh, I’m not even going to take the risk and apply to X college’ because they may have looked [at their October scores] and felt they were off the mark,” Poch said.

At Pomona, only six of the more than 5,400 applicants were affected by the scoring error, with the biggest error being 130 points.

Still, said Poch, his office received a “steady drumbeat” of phone calls from concerned applicants Wednesday. “A lot of kids from that October administration are wondering what is going on and our phone is ringing a lot,” he said

In one indication of the highly charged atmosphere surrounding college admissions, a New York attorney posted a notice Wednesday on the website urging affected students to call her office. Reached by phone, Catherine Riccards said her firm was investigating the possibility of suing but did not yet have a client.