College Board Frustrated By Court Settlement Mandating SAT Studies

Officials at the College Board fear a rushed decision made without adequate review could revolutionize the role the SATs play in admissions.

By next March, a panel selected by the College Board and disability rights

advocates must recommend whether to remove the markers, called "flags," on score reports that notify admissions officers of unusual testing conditions.

Without the flags, admissions officers will have no way to determine the conditions under which applicants took the exam.

But the process for choosing the panel that will finally issue this recommendation has cut into the time that could be spent researching and evaluating the merits of flagging, according to the College Board.

"The fact that a panel is not established is of some concern to me," said Wayne Camara, director of research and development at the College Board. "We need to make an informed decision and it shouldn't have to happen in a short period."

An ETS press release stated the panel would be chosen by June, but both ETS and the College Board are concerned about the progress of the selection of panel members.

According to the press release, the panel will be comprised of individuals who must be approved by both sides of the legal settlement.

"Each side has veto power of the other side's nominations," said Tim Ewing, an ETS spokesperson. "We need to be able to agree on the people making this recommendation.

Though the panel's recommendation is not binding, the disability advocates are prepare d to contest a recommendation that will not remove the flags.

"The case will be reopened in courts if the panel does not decide to do away with flagged scores," J. Thomas vial, Executive director o f the international Dyslexia Association, a party to the suit said.

Camara said that the College Board has not taken any conclusive steps toward naming its picks for the panel.

"Despite what the press release said, we have no formal rules for how they will be appointed and nothing formally or officially has been done yet," he said.

The College Board has

"a few ideas for panel members," said Camara, but none of these names have been released to the disability advocates and none of the potential candidates have been contacted.

The College Board feels the burden of proving that flagged reports are necessary.

"There is a lot of pressure from other testing services to remove flagging from score reports," Brian

O'Reilly, Executive Director of the SAT said. "We have to explain why our behavior is different [from ETS]."

With each moment taken up by the panel's selection, the testing service fears that the panel recommendation will be made without having adequately researched the variable of untamed testing.

"Good research takes 2 to 3 years to complete," O'Reilly said.

As of yet, there have been no studies to compare the performance of learning disabled students and normal students when the exam is taken without time restrictions.

The last major study the College Board conducted on learning disabilities and the SAT is 15 years old.

Currently, a study concluded in January is the only current data about the effect of time on test performance. The study, conducted under regular testing conditions using the experimental section of the exam, made the number of problems in each section the variable.

For normal students, the study found that only in the math section was there a significant difference and even then the difference was only among those scoring in the higher numbers.

"Students who were scoring in the 400s and low 500s did not have any benefit from extra time," Camara said. "But for students scoring above 600, with time and a half, it translated to what would be a 30 point difference."

Camara said the College Board was concerned about creating further group differences between high ability students.

"Preliminary research suggests that differences between groups may actually get worse if adding more time only benefits the highest ability kids," Camara said.

The studies also showed an increasing disparity along gender lines.

However, any study conducted by the College Board raises complicated issues, ranging from bias to the cost of the studies.

"No one is interested in doing SAT research," Camara said. "We have to hire our own researchers and then the results are questioned because we are conducting our own studies."

Ewing said the panel would need to hire researches to do independent studies that would not be accused of bias.

More extensive studies will require more of the College Board's budget and could increase the price of the exam.

"Ideally the government should pay for this sort of research, but we have to and the cost comes out in the exam," Camara said.

The College Board plans to conduct a major study over the summer to weigh the effect of time on exam performance. The College Board plans to have high school juniors take the take an exam under regular and time and a half conditions, and though these results will not affect college admissions, the results of the survey will most likely be used in the panel's evaluation, Camara said.

--Staff Writer Nicole B. Usher can be reached at usher@fas.harvard.edu