Akil Bello has taken the SAT exam more times than he can count. As a director at The Princeton Review test preparation company, Bello’s job required that he experience what his clients will face. This year was more urgent, since the College Board, which owns the SAT, has redesigned the exam, a move that has been greeted with test taker anxiety.
Five days before his scheduled March 5 test day, he received an email from the College Board saying he wouldn’t be able to take the test for another two months. The reason was security.
“This change was implemented to ensure that everyone taking the test is doing so for its intended purpose,” the February 29 message said, “to apply to and attend a college or university undergraduate program, or to apply for scholarships, financial aid, or other programs that require a college admission test.”
The College Board declined to say who or how many test takers were similarly bumped. It did say that the March 5 redesign rollout had attracted “an unusually high number of individuals meeting criteria associated with a higher security risk.”
Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, an anti-testing organization, called the decision to bar test preparation professionals from seeing the March exam as a “guarantee that there will be no expert eyes inspecting the administrating of the SAT.”
Bello believes the last-minute timing makes the College Board look suspicious. “There is no real harm of banning adults,” he said. “The biggest harm in doing it is that it makes us question their motivation for doing this.”
Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz, director of Operations at Bell Curves, a test preparation and educational service company in New York City said, “This does not add up. This is very clear that this is such a hasty decision.” He believes the College Board is afraid of experts looking at the test as well. One of his staff members was scheduled to take the exam on March 5 and received the message that his test date would also be postponed.
“The security concerns can only be true if they plan to re-use the test,” said Schaeffer.
The questions and answers for the May 7 SAT will be made available after the test, but not the one for March 5. In 2013, the College Board cancelled the exam in South Korea after allegations surfaced about a test prep company receiving the test in advance. Authorities arrested seven people in a cheating scandal in New York in 2011.
According to the College Board, there are approximately 463,000 test takers for the March 2016 SAT and this figure is an increase over the same time period last year. The College Board did not respond to questions about how many of these test takers were test preparation professionals.
Barring test professionals on Saturday still does not address what Schaeffer believes are the bigger issues posed by the new SAT.
“It will still under-predict the classroom performance of women, older applicants and students whose first language is not English,” said Schaeffer. “The coaching industry is already selling high-priced ‘test prep steroids’ to teenagers whose parents can pay thousands to artificially boost scores on the revised exam.”