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SAT Scores: How to Pick Your Best

Posted Jan 19 2009 1:22am

This guest post is by Tamara Luque Black, Ph.D. is a Program & Curriculum Development Specialist for KlassTutoring ( www.KlassTutoring.com ), a Los Angeles-based SAT prep company. If your teen is preparing to take the SAT, Dr. Black recommendsThe Ultimate SAT Tutorial: The Easiest and Most Effective Way to Raise Your Score, available on Amazon.com.

Wish Colleges Could See Only Your Teen’s Best SAT Scores? That wish is about to come true…

The College Board has recently decided to allow students to choose which SAT scores to send to colleges. This option, called Score Choice, becomes available in March 2009. Under the current rules, if a student reports SAT scores to a given college, all of his or her scores go. For better or for worse, this is about to change.

Beginning in March 2009…

    …Students may choose which scores to report by test date for the SAT and by individual test for the SAT II Subject Tests.
    …Students cannot pick and choose which sections to send. For instance, they can’t send their May Critical Reading score and their January Writing and Mathematics scores.
    …It is free to use Score Choice.
    …It is optional to use Score Choice. If a student does not enroll, then all scores from all test dates are automatically sent to the student’s colleges (as under the current system).
    …Students must opt into Score Choice prior to their test date—when they register for the SAT. Score Choice will be available online through the College Board website and by phone through the toll-free customer service line.

The rationale for this policy change was to make taking the SAT less stressful for students, while maintaining the test’s integrity. Kids can fight anxiety by taking a “real practice” test to get comfortable. This has obvious benefits for teens’ emotional wellbeing. The change is, understandably, very popular with students.

However, critics of Score Choice argue that it obscures the context in which a score is earned. A test-taker can hide an uncharacteristically low score or the fact that it took five sittings to earn a high one. The kid who gets a 760 Math on his first try would look just like the one who got that same score on his fifth. If the context for earning scores is not transparent—revealed uniformly for comparison to all other test-takers—is the result really a “standardized” score at all?

Just as Score Choice is optional for teens, it is also optional for colleges. If a particular college decides to require students to submit all scores, then applicants will need to comply—rendering Score Choice effectively moot for that school. This creates even more variability: University A might see only a teen’s top score, while University B receives all of the scores.

Opponents of the change also fear that it will further disadvantage youths from underserved populations who can only afford to take the SAT once or twice. In contrast, a more affluent kid could take it repeatedly until he gets his desired scores, and colleges would no longer necessarily see that. A similar concern involves the “default setting”: unless otherwise specified, all scores are sent to all schools. This default may hurt underserved teens as they are the least likely to have access to efficient pipelines for receiving information about SAT policy changes or strategic coaching about how to take advantage of options such as Score Choice. Information about Score Choice must reach the ears of all students in order for SAT scores to remain meaningful.

Though concerns remain about keeping the playing field level, a recent College Board survey of over 3,600 respondents found that students of “all income and ethnic segments” express “strong interest in having more control over their scores.” 1

So what’s a teen to do? Ideally, students should enroll in Score Choice online when they register to take the SAT. They should sit for the test two to four times, taking comfort in the knowledge that a fluke low score can be suppressed. Next, read college applications carefully, as different schools may have different score-reporting requirements. If a college permits Score Choice, then your teen should report scores from the test date on which he or she performed best.

Tamara Luque Black, Ph.D. is a Program & Curriculum Development Specialist for KlassTutoring ( www.KlassTutoring.com ), a Los Angeles-based SAT prep company. If your teen is preparing to take the SAT, Dr. Black recommends The Ultimate SAT Tutorial: The Easiest and Most Effective Way to Raise Your Score, available on Amazon.com.

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SAT Scores: How to Pick Your Best

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