The Arizona Desert Lamp

Score Choice: Another case of test anxiety

Posted in Random by Connor Mendenhall on 7 January 2009

Just one of many possible post-score Choices.College admissions counselors are atwitter over a new policy that will allow students taking the SAT to choose which scores to send with their admissions applications. Called “Score Choice,” the new rule is a more elaborate alternative to the mulligan opportunity we had back in my day: canceling your score uphill both ways in the snow.

Dana Goldstein of The American Prospect argues that Score Choice “will disadvantage students who cannot afford to take the test multiple times or shell out for tutors and classes to help them raise their score.” But I’m not so sure it will make any difference at all.

Consider the incentives at work. There’s a huge information asymmetry involved in picking smart students based on a couple essays and a high school transcript. What sort of university wouldn’t want to see every applicant’s full set of SAT scores? Admissions officers still make the rules, and it’s in their interest to adjust them to prohibit prospective students from withholding scores. Those schools willing to accept just one set of SATs might be able to tout their easier admissions processes, but it’s certainly not a smart long-term strategy.

Then again, big schools like UA aren’t as worried about collecting test scores and other bits of information in order to form a more perfect picture of each candidate. Our admissions office is more concerned with ensuring that each applicant meets certain numerical thresholds and credit requirements. But there’s a reason even big public schools should want full score reports: SAT scores are a key component of all-important U.S. News rankings. Admissions offices use students’ highest scores in each test category to tweak the average as high as possible by picking, say, a high verbal score from a student’s first go-round, and a math and writing score from the second. It’s a pretty plush arrangement—but colleges need more than one set of scores to choose from.

Fortunately, the same rules are in place for prospective students, so they’ve got a strong incentive to submit more than one score report, too. Most colleges accept the highest score in each test category for admissions consideration, so only those students who get worse over time or have questionable jumps between tests need worry.

So if admissions offices want as many scores as possible, and students aren’t penalized for trying more than once, why would anyone want to hide their scores at all? The controversy over Score Choice seems to be a whole lot of hubbub over nothing.

(photo via flickr user -marlith-)

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