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Stung by SAT Grading Errors, College Board Launches Reform Measures

Times Staff Writer

The College Board on Wednesday announced measures to avoid a repeat episode of the grading errors that plagued SAT exams taken by high school students in October.

The New York-based nonprofit organization, which owns the SAT, also revised upward -- by nearly 400 -- the number of test takers who received lower scores than they deserved in the initial grading.

Board officials said follow-up reviews had found that 4,411 students received incorrectly low scores on the college entrance exam, slightly less than 1% of the 495,000 test takers overall in October.

The College Board said one of the affected test takers had received a score that was off by 450 points.

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The worst grading gaffe reported previously was slightly less than 400 points. Scores on the SAT range from 600 to 2400.

The continuing revelations over the last two weeks of problems in grading the exams and in reevaluating the results have been “a very humbling experience” for the College Board, spokeswoman Chiara Coletti said.

She also noted the stress the errors created for high school seniors and their families, along with college counselors and admissions officers.

Coletti said the College Board had begun contacting affected students and schools by e-mail, overnight mail and, in some cases, by phone.

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“We know we have to restore public confidence in the entire process because this anomaly occurred.

“For this reason, we have put in the safeguards. I think they will be very effective, and we are really going to hold Pearson [accountable] to make sure they are done and are done properly,” Coletti added, referring to the College Board’s scanning contractor, Pearson Educational Measurement.

The new safeguards include scanning each answer sheet twice.

In addition, the board said that, through Pearson, it would improve software to identify answer sheets that have been deformed by humidity and will take other steps to make sure humidity doesn’t again foul the scanning of sheets.

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Iowa-based Pearson -- whose work for the College Board has been cited as the source of the grading problems -- has attributed the scanning errors largely to problems related to the high humidity that occurred in various parts of the country on the October day on which the testing was held.

The company declined to elaborate Wednesday on the reasons behind the scanning problems.

The College Board also has retained the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton to provide recommendations within 90 days on improving grading procedures, particularly the scanning process.

Critics of the College Board weren’t satisfied with the measures.

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“This series of incidents shows that test scores are too fallible to be used to make high-stakes educational decisions,” said Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for FairTest, an advocacy group that often challenges the use of standardized tests.

“It’s incredible that they didn’t exercise quality control like this before problems arose,” he said.

The College Board said its reviews also found that 613 test takers in all, up from slightly under 600 previously, received higher grades than they deserved.

Coletti said those instances would not be reported to colleges, to avoid penalizing students for the errors.

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