A Really Bad SAT Score

I hear a lot of crazy things when I drive the teenagers in my carpool to high school, but perhaps the strangest admission happened near the start of the school year.

The four kids were talking about their SAT scores when Madison mumbled that his scores were low. I asked him what happened and he said he decided to see how he’d do without preparing at all. You know, he said, he just wanted a baseline.

Trouble is that Madison didn’t get to sleep until 3 a.m. the night before the Saturday morning test. Sometime during the test he fell asleep. Yes, he swore he fell asleep.

His baseline became more of a flat line.

Everyone was incredulous that Madison pulled such a stunt and my son and the other kids in the car dumped on him for awhile. Good thing Madison is so good natured. He took the SAT just recently and the carpool is genuinely hoping for better news next time.

I mention Madison’s story –and by the way Madison is a delightful teenager that any school would be lucky to get — because he’s just the sort of kid who could be helped by a new SAT policy.

Not long ago the College Board, which administers the SAT, announced a new program called Score Choice beginning in the spring that will allow teens to pick and choose which test scores they want sent to schools. So if you bomb during the March SAT  test, but do much better when you take the May test, you only need to send the latter scores. Currently, the College Board sends all scores — even really embarrassing ones.

Now you might think that this is such a common sense policy that it’s strange that it wasn’t implemented years ago. As far as I know, the ACT has always maintained the pick-and-choose policy without any problems.

Actually, the SAT policy switch is incredibly controversial among college counselors. Opponents believe that kids will start taking the test countless times until they get really great scores. They argue that while affluent suburban kids can afford to become serial test takers, poorer teens won’t be able to so the new privilege will represent an unfair advantage.

My response to that is that the SAT already poses an unfair advantage to students who can’t pay $1,000 or more for an SAT prep class. To me that’s much more a problem. And frankly, while some kids might become test junkies, I know of no teenagers personally who would subject themselves to such torture.

I will never forget picking my daughter up from her first SAT test a couple of years ago. Caitlin, who is now a sophomore in college, told me that she had been so nervous that her stomach ached horribly and she used the breaks to run into the bathroom. She took the SAT twice — improved her score by 20 points — and happily called it quits.

While I applaud the SAT change, some selective schools apparently don’t want kids to enjoy this new freedom. Despite the SAT’s policy change, some schools have decided to demand all of the SAT scores.

I don’t now why these admission offices are going to insist on seeing all the scores. It’s widely acknowledged that SAT scores do a poorer job than grade point averages in predicting student success. I guess they don’t care about somebody else’s stomach ache.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution.

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