Changes to SAT threaten test validity, Education Next article warns; may impact administration of No Child Left Behind testing programs

Monday, August 25, 2003

As of October 1, 2003, the College Board, a consortium of colleges that owns the SAT, will no longer flag scores of students who take the SAT with extended time.

This step will have a "chilling effect" on the validity of the technical standards used in the nation's testing programs, warns Boston attorney, Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, in the forthcoming issue of Education Next, a Hoover Institution publication devoted to the analysis of education issues.

The board's decision to stop the practice of noting when students take the test under non-standard conditions, was done in the aftermath of a settlement of a related lawsuit filed against the Education Testing Service (ETS), which administers several major testing programs, including the SAT.

"The College Board's unfortunate and puzzling action—an action that no court was likely to order if the case had gone to trial—deserves far more scrutiny than it has received so far," writes Freedman in her article, "Disabling the SAT."

According to Freedman, the SAT is valuable for two main reasons: (1) It provides colleges with a common standard against which to evaluate students who attend high schools with varying grading policies and levels of rigor, and (2) it partially predicts students' grades during their freshmen year of college, a measure of how prepared they are for higher education.

Freedman points out that flagging scores protected the test's usefulness as a common standard of measurement by informing readers, such as college admissions officers, when the test had been taken under unusual conditions, including receiving time and a half to finish the standard three-hour exam.

"Without flagging, an admissions officer has no way of knowing whether the SAT scores of two candidates can be compared with one another, since there is no way of knowing whether the two candidates took the test under the same conditions," Freedman writes.

The College Board's decision fails to consider alternative solutions that would protect both the SAT's validity and students' rights to confidentiality regarding their disabilities, Freedman said.

Freedman offers three alternatives

  • UNTIMED SATs FOR ALL. If, as it now appears, time doesn't affect the SAT's validity, then administer an untimed test to everyone. Permitting all students to take the SAT without time constraints preserves the required standardization of test-taking conditions.

  • LET THE STUDENTS DECIDE. If time does affect validity and standardized norms, then the board can avoid the allegation of discrimination by allowing all students to choose whether they want extended time. Ask each test-taker: "How do you wish to take the SAT? You may either (a) take the test within time constraints (and not have results flagged), or (b) take it with extended time (and have the result flagged)." With this solution, a flag would no longer identify students as disabled.

  • DEFEND THE SAT. The College Board could void the settlement. If actually sued, it could defend the SAT in court.

Freedman represents school districts on issues of testing, standards, and students with disabilities. "Disabling the SAT" can be read in its entirety in the fall issue of Education Next online at

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

The editors of Education Next include Hoover fellows Paul E. Peterson, editor in chief, Chester E. Finn Jr., and Marci Kanstoroom; Frederick M. Hess, University of Virginia; and Martin West, Harvard University.

Members of the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force on K–12 Education make up the editorial board of the journal. In addition to Peterson and Finn, task force members include Hoover fellows Williamson M. Evers, Eric Hanushek, and Terry Moe and Hoover distinguished visiting fellows John E. Chubb, Paul Hill, E. D. Hirsch Jr., Caroline Hoxby, Diane Ravitch, and Herbert J. Walberg.

The Hoover Institution, founded at Stanford University in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, who went on to become the 31st president of the United States, is an interdisciplinary research center for advanced study on domestic public policy and international affairs, with an internationally renowned archive.