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Keeping score

This March, high school juniors taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) will have the option of choosing which scores to send to colleges while hiding those they do not want admissions officials to see. The new policy is called Score Choice, and the College Board hopes it will reduce student stress around the SAT and college admissions.

But when it comes to college admissions, few things are ever simple. Some highly selective colleges have already said that they will not go along with Score Choice, and the policy is stirring heated debate among high school counsellors and college admissions officials.

Some argue that it is really a marketing tool intended to encourage students to take the test more often. Others say that contrary to the College Board’s goal, the policy will aggravate the testing frenzy and add yet another layer of stress and complexity to applying to college.

“In practice, it will lead to more anxiety, more confusion, more testing for those who can afford it and more coaching,” said Brad MacGowan, a college counsellor at Newton North High School in suburban Boston and a longtime critic of the College Board and standardised testing.

Many students take the SAT more than once, and the College Board automatically sends colleges the scores of every SAT test a student takes.

Under Score Choice, students can choose their best overall SAT sitting to send to colleges, but they will not be able to mix and match scores from different sittings. (Each sitting includes tests in critical reading, mathematics and writing, with a top score of 800 in each area.)

There is no additional charge if a student selects Score Choice, which also applies to SAT subject tests, formerly called SAT II and given in areas like history, sciences and languages.

Score Choice is not a new concept. From 1993 to 2002, students were allowed to take as many SAT subject tests as they wanted and report only their best scores to the colleges they applied to.

In ending that policy in 2002, the College Board said that some students who had stored their scores had forgotten to release them and missed admissions deadlines. It also said that ending Score Choice would be fairer to low-income and minority students, who did not have the resources to keep retaking the tests.

Now, the College Board sees things differently. “It simply allows students to put their best foot forward,” said Laurence Bunin, a senior vice-president with the College Board.

With Score Choice, Bunin said, students can “feel very comfortable going into the test centre because, goodness forbid, if for whatever reason they don’t feel comfortable, it won’t be on their permanent record forever.”

William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions at Harvard, shares that view.

“In some respect,” Fitzsimmons said, “Score Choice will help defuse some of the pressure and give students a sense that not everything is riding on the tests, which really is the case.”

But Jerome A. Lucido, the vice-provost for enrolment policy and management at the University of Southern California, said, “Students will like it because they’ll have a sense of control, but my sense is that it’s not worth the trade-off in terms of complexity and more gamesmanship.”

A major concern has to do with how colleges will handle Score Choice.

Admissions officials at some highly selective colleges — the University of Southern California, Stanford, Claremont McKenna and the University of Pennsylvania, among others — have said that Score Choice or not, they want all the scores — from the SAT and the American College Testing (ACT).

It is in the students’ best interest to send all scores, these officials say, because their practice is to combine the highest subscores from all of the score reports.

“Our plan is to first tell students to relax,” said Bruce Poch, director of admissions at Pomona College. “The habit here is like in many colleges, which is to see it all but consider for admission purposes the highest individual score.”

Gary Meunier, a counsellor at Weston High School, in Weston, Connecticut, said one reason he favoured Score Choice was that while he believed that most schools did look at the highest subscores, he had also seen schools rule out students with any scores below 500.

“For some kids, performance in the classroom far exceeds that in standardised tests,” Meunier said. With Score Choice, “they get a couple more shots at it,” he said. “They can therefore take it with a little less anxiety. At one test, if they blow it, no one’s going to see it.”

©New York Times News Service

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