On a rainy Saturday morning in June, 17-year-old Sarah Choudhury showed up bright and early at her SAT testing center in the town of Lagrangeville in upstate New York. This was her last chance to raise her score before applying for early admission to highly competitive premed programs in the fall.
As she was taking the test, she says, "chaos" struck. There was a discrepancy between the time allotted in the student test booklet for one of the sections, 25 minutes, and the proctor's instructions, just 20 minutes.
"Everyone stopped testing and then the proctor went over to the head proctor and asked her to call The College Board," Choudhury recalls.
"Everyone was really confused and a lot of people felt like they were really short on time ... I felt really rushed."
A version of this stressful situation played out across the United States on June 6. Scores will be thrown out on two of the 10 sections of the SATs taken that day. And late Monday night the College Board announced that fees will be waived on the next testing date for students who report having a bad experience this time. That's because a printing error in the student instruction booklet stated the wrong time limit, leading to widespread confusion. A reported 487,000 students were registered for the test, the last SATs of the school year.
A College Board spokesman forwarded a prepared statement and responded to follow-up questions by directing NPR Ed to its website. The statement says that SAT scores on the test will still be considered valid for college admissions despite the missing sections:
"To accommodate the wide range of incidents that can impact a testing experience, the SAT's Critical Reading, Writing, and Math tests each are designed to collect enough information to provide valid and reliable scores even with an unscored section. From fire drills and power outages to mistiming and disruptive behavior, school-based test administrations can be fragile, so our assessments are not.
We take our responsibility to students very seriously, and we regret the confusion some students experienced."
The test won't be given again until October, which may raise concerns for students who are applying for early admission or trying to qualify for certain scholarships.
Some students and families are not satisfied. Julia Ellinghaus, a high school student in Long Island, N.Y., has filed a federal lawsuit against the Educational Testing Service, which operates the SAT for The College Board, seeking monetary damages. The suit also seeks class-action status for the students affected. And Choudhury, along with a classmate, created an online petition asking for a free retest, with about 700 signatures.
Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, an anti-testing group, has been following the SATs for years and he says this is the biggest mixup he has ever seen.
"Unprecedented is an understatement," he says of the situation. "There has never been a case where they've had to cancel scoring of an entire section."