Partial score reporting adds to SAT anxiety

The bane of many a college-bound high school student’s existence can be summed up in three letters: SAT.

Despite fervent assurances from guidance counselors and admissions officers that SAT scores are not the most important facet of a college application package, students still stress and study like crazy anticipating the day they fire up those No. 2 pencils. Now, as even “safety net” state universities tighten their enrollment numbers to cope with shrinking budgets, the pressure for students to perform well on the SAT is stronger than ever.

To alleviate test-related tension, the College Board — the organization that oversees the SAT — created Score Choice, a reporting system available this March that allows students to disclose only their best scores when applying to college.

While the College Board’s attempt to ameliorate students’ anxiety about SAT performance is noble, Score Choice is not an effective means to do so. In fact, it does just the opposite.

The current SAT reporting policy requires full disclosure of results from all SAT test attempts, in part to discourage students from taking the test numerous times. Many institutions, including Yale, Stanford, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, are openly criticizing the new system and announcing that they will not accept partial SAT reports from applicants.

Other schools, including USF, Harvard, MIT and the University of Chicago, are accepting Score Choice. Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons even endorsed the system in the NewYork Times.

“In some respect, 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,” Fitzsimmons said.

What Fitzsimmons fails to realize is that encouraging students to report only their highest scores to college admissions offices implies that a sub-par score could bar them from entrance to college, thus reinforcing the very notion Score Choice is designed to negate.

By underscoring the idea that SATs make or break a student’s chance of acceptance, Score Choice puts added stress on students to retake the test repeatedly until an optimal score is achieved. Since all SAT attempts are ordinarily included in admissions packages, students shy away from frequent retests. However, Score Choice impels students to expend more energy by re-testing innumerable times — and taking the test earlier — without full disclosure.

Students who use Score Choice will also no longer have the option of reporting composite scores, or the best overall score from each section of the SAT from all test attempts — putting more pressure on students to perform well in one sitting and increasing the likelihood of multiple retakes.

Perhaps most damaging to the College Board is that Score Choice fuels the already controversial assertion that the SAT favors wealthier students. Without having to worry about full score disclosure, wealthy college-bound students — who can already afford expensive test prep classes and study materials  — can now pay to take the test many times without worry.

Meanwhile, lower-income students without the money for multiple SAT tests are forced to try to overcome the privilege gap. In this regard, Score Choice makes money paramount in students’ SAT success.

No matter how sincere the College Board may be in its hopes to decrease the pressure and stress surrounding the SAT, the Score Choice system is rife with negative implications and fundamental inconsistencies.

To genuinely de-emphasize SAT performance, there must be another rubric by which to judge college applicants. If the College Board’s aim is to relieve college applicants’ SAT anxiety, the organization should cooperate with universities to devise new, more well-rounded means of measuring students’ academic and intellectual abilities, or at least rework the SAT to be uniform and accessible. Simply encouraging students to take the test repeatedly and conceal their lower scores is not enough.

Renee Sessions is a senior double majoring in journalism and creative writing.