The College Board blew it again. After the fiasco of the June 2018 SAT, industry experts expected the test maker to deliver an impeccable exam experience for the August SAT. Instead, College Board ran a familiar play from its bonehead playbook by administering an SAT that was either partially or entirely leaked in Asia less than a year ago.
The College Board approaches security at testing sites with all the warmth and compassion of a cranky TSA agent. Yet, internal security measures to safeguard test integrity from hackers and leakers can only be described as sloppy. Reusing test questions known to have been released into the wild undercuts any pretense of a commitment to fair and valid testing.
Could it be that creating new test material costs too much for the College Board? Neil Chyten of NC Global Education, Inc. pegs the cost of just one SAT test question at $1000, which equates to nearly $200,000 to create a single SAT test. That estimate may be low, as a 2016 Reuters feature on this exact security failure reported that developing a single version of the SAT can take up to 30 months and cost about $1 million, according to people familiar with the process.
While I cannot vouch for the dollar amounts attached to the test development process, I can attest to the extraordinary levels of attention devoted to the creation of each and every question on these tests. Many years ago, one of the heads of the SAT math team explained the 20-50 steps in crafting exam questions that tested–without bias–what they were supposed to test and didn’t test what they weren’t supposed to test. No other exam in the United States has ever, to my knowledge, risen to the meticulous standard of standardization established by the SAT and ACT at their best.
Unfortunately, today’s aspirants to American colleges and universities aren’t seeing these tests at their best. Neither test maker pretests questions and norms exams the way they once did, which leads to uneven exams with unpredictable score scales. Even worse, both testing organizations seem more focused on new, shiny expansions rather than their core products. Shipping last year’s model with an updated label, which essentially describes College Board’s August offense, often signals the decline of even mighty companies.
A million dollars a test shouldn’t be a hardship for a non-profit organization that charges upwards of $50 per test for millions of test administrations a year along with plentiful fees for additional exams and services. In fact, College Board–and ACT too–should invest even more than that per exam to ensure the highest quality testing experience for students and score data for colleges and other educational bodies. These two mission-driven organizations make significant contributions to college success and opportunity for millions of students a year. But none of their peripheral projects focusing on state testing, college planning, subject tests, or workplace readiness matter a bit if their core tests fail.
College Board just bungled two tests in a row. How many more strikes with colleges and college applicants give them before the SAT is called out? If you ran a testing organization and wanted to prevent a future where your test was no longer relevant, you might consider investing a million dollars a test to be a bargain.