Saskia Van Horn took the SAT a fourth time in June, hoping to get a better score that would earn her additional financial aid as she heads to Queens College in New York in August. The SAT is a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States.
But her score went down, not up. Van Horn checked online and found other students had the same complaint. Now, thousands of those students across the U.S. say they want the June SAT graded again after some test takers say they got more answers correct, but received a lower score than on earlier tests.
Some test takers checked their answers against a key that cost an additional $13.50, and determined that the College Board, which administers the test and derives income through test fees, changed the grading for June's test from previous SAT tests. Van Horn and other students say the method of grading in June renders those scores inaccurate.
The College Board said the test takers are half right.
They did curve the test in a method called "equating." However, the test results from June are accurate, the College Board said.
Here is information for the students who reached out with questions about their June SAT scores. pic.twitter.com/ngXywO88ji— The College Board (@CollegeBoard) July 12, 2018
Because tests vary in difficulty, the board "equates" or "curves" the test to standardize results across years.
"For example, a single incorrect answer on one administration could equal two or three incorrect answers on a more difficult version," it said.
Equating is used with every SAT test, wrote Jaslee Carayol, associate director of media relations at College Board, in an email.
"While we plan for consistency across administrations, on occasion there are some tests that can be easier or more difficult than usual," Carayol wrote. "Equating is used for every SAT administration and is standard practice for assessments like the SAT."
Equating "makes sure that a score for a test taken on one date is equivalent to a score from another date," according to the statement. "The equating process ensures fairness for all students."
"We want to assure you that your scores are accurate."
The College Board also curves Advanced Placement tests, which help students gain college-level credit by taking the test instead of taking the course.
Van Horn connected with other test takers on social media who are frustrated with June's results, too. She met with Rochelle Zaks and Joel Veras on July 16 to protest outside the College Board in New York City.
Van Horn, Zaks and Veras held signs saying, "Give Us Our Right Score!" "Why Are You Sabotaging American Students" and "Rescore June SAT," outside the board headquarters near the World Trade Center in downtown New York.
On her third crack at the SAT, Zaks scored 1390 out of 1600, and was OK with that score, she said. Then, while going over the test with her mother, she noticed that something seemed off.
Zaks, from Pennsylvania, said her goal going into the test was to get no more than nine or 10 math questions wrong out of 58, which, according to her calculations, would have gotten her a 700. A math tutor helped her make those calculations.
When she pored over her score, she saw that she had only five wrong, but received a 690.
"I was a little shocked and I was really confused," Zaks said.
Others were baffled, as well.
Shiva Pentakota, a high school senior from Atlanta, said that the test he took was harder, not easier. He said he used the College Board $13.50 tool to calculate that conclusion. The College Board sells the tool — the Student Answer Service (SAS) — to test takers to check their scores. Students receive the correct answers to each question from the exam they took, and the SAS lists which questions were easy, medium or difficult, as categorized by the College Board.
"College Board is claiming that this whole test was easier, so me and my peers, we all fact-checked our own math and purchased the March SAT and the June SAT [SAS] and we counted the number of difficult, easy and medium questions," Pentakota said.
Pentakota and his friends rechecked their math and purchased the SAS answers to the June SAT as well as the Question and Answer Service, a similar tool for the March SAT. They counted more difficult questions in the reading section of the June SAT than the March SAT.
He said he believes that the equating system is flawed.
"The real issue is whatever they use to equate, the process didn't work this time," Pentakota said. "This was an exception to a normal test."
A similar uproar occurred in 2015 with another June SAT test over a printing error. College Board ended up not scoring two sections of the exam, but still provided students with "valid and reliable scores," according to the website.
"The scored sections had the same distribution of content and skills as the full-length test and therefore is reflective of the overall SAT content specifications," the update said.
In that instance, the College Board said that the equating process was not affected.