Large increases in a student’s scores will almost always catch the attention of the ACT and SAT review boards. They like to feel that their tests are not easily coached, and so gains of more than 200 points on the SAT and 8 points on the ACT are viewed with suspicion. At Biltmore Tutoring, we have proven many times over that students can achieve these kind of point gains on their college entrance exams, since we know that great instruction leads to large point increases! But what should you do if your score is flagged for academic review?
If your child’s extraordinary score increase is challenged by either the ACT or College Board (the SAT), here is our advice, since we have been through this many times through the years, with some of our students picking up as many as 630 SAT points and 14 ACT points:
1) When you log in to see your scores, they may say they haven’t been posted yet or that your scores are being delayed for academic review. This is because College Board or ACT doesn’t think it’s possible to have such large increases. They’re wrong!
2) Don’t panic! Most reviews are done without your even knowing it and then your scores are posted a few days afterward.
If it gets past that stage, call College Board or ACT and ask for all the information they are reviewing, and then find out when this review will take place. At that point, get all your ducks in a row! Assuming that you have prepped with us, this means calling Biltmore Tutoring so we can get your instructors’ notes together to show the amount of hours and hard work you put into test preparation. Call your school, as well, and advise them of the academic review situation so they can attest to your character and grades.
Recently, one of our students went through this process. He should have been able to celebrate his 530 point increase on the SAT, but his score was instead challenged very vigorously by College Board. His mother told us that after taking the SAT, her son “began checking the website regularly for the posted scores. Several weeks passed by without any information or updates on the website, thus we decided to call and inquire. The news we received was both wonderful and confusing…the scores were under review due to a significant increase in points from the previous test. It was obvious to us that our child’s hard work, focus and test prep (26 hours, plus outside homework) had helped achieve great success; however, this excellent performance was now being questioned and challenged.”
One can only imagine how helpless this would make a parent feel, especially after they have watched their student put in so much hard work and effort to improve their college options. College Board and ACT have the ability to unilaterally wipe out a student’s score if they feel that the student has somehow gained an unfair advantage, and to be as blunt as possible about it, this is their assumption from the start. They assume guilt before innocence, and start by comparing a student’s correct and incorrect answers with those seated around him or her; they also interview proctors to ask whether any strange behavior was exhibited by the student, and so forth. The danger for a student who has gone through intensive test preparation — and it’s a very real problem — is that College Board or ACT will make a blanket assumption that the student cheated if his or her scores go up significantly.
At Biltmore Tutoring, we see huge increases all the time, so we’ve been through the process quite a few times.
The parent quoted above continues, “We were convicted in our knowledge that our child had absolutely earned these scores, but unfortunately had to wait weeks before getting them validated and released. While it was incredibly hard, frustrating and stressful not knowing how this situation was going to unfold, we remained optimistic and confident. We wanted our child to stay optimistic too, and enlisted the assistance of our school administrators, along with Stacey and Brian to submit documents supporting the test preparation and the academic rigor and strength of our child’s high school career. As per protocol, after receiving the supporting documents, SAT appointed a special panel of three administrators to review the submitted documentation…and again we waited. Almost seven weeks after the test date, we finally got the letter. Our child’s hard work and perseverance had paid off, and we celebrated the news that these much improved scores were cleared and officially released. We are grateful that we can close this chapter and now focus on college applications!”
When we were assisting the family above with their appeal, we spoke to Bob Shaeffer of FairTest (FairTest is the National Center for Fair and Open Testing). Mr. Shaeffer said, “The first thing we tell parents to do is read and follow the guide to the process run by the Educational Testing Service, which handles test security for the College Board. Then, we ask them to request all the ‘evidence’ from the test-makers and send it to us for review. At times, we have found errors in the ETS analysis; in other instances, we have been able to identify stronger arguments than the family was planning to make.
“Overall, we help families ‘win’ a quarter to a third of protests — sometimes at the Board of Review level and twice in the past year via arbitration. Your client’s case is likely to be particularly difficult because the score gain was so large, but victory is not impossible.”
We were able to provide tutoring session notes, classroom student response data, and personal statements from both of the student’s tutors, all of which indicated that incredible progress was being made during tutoring sessions with the student. We also issued a strong statement attesting to the student’s character, and challenged the College Board for their own recent scoring and test security problems. To sum up, all of this documentation was invaluable in helping to justify the student’s scores.
Our next step would have been to enlist the help of Jay Rosner, Student Advocate. He is an expert at helping students advocate in these kinds of cases and is well versed on how the College Board and ACT work.
The help provided by fairtest.org and also by Mr. Rosner is freely available. If, as a student or a parent, you find that the hard work that you (or your child) have put into test preparation is being challenged, make sure you know how to fight back.