Regarding the ongoing controversy about scores on the June SAT (about which browse the responses on Twitter to the College Board’s official response, or lack thereof), it may be helpful, though hardly consolation, to understand how apparently unfair “equated” scoring like this comes about. A good deal of the following is educated guessing, because the College Board is notoriously close-lipped about its proprietary test-design and scoring methods. But it may be helpful nonetheless.

College Board uses experimental sections and questions to test ahead of time the level of difficulty questions will have. On score reports they rank questions with difficulty levels of easy, medium, and hard. Many observers have noted that score reports regularly show questions as “unscoreable,” which means they were excluded and not counted in scoring. Sacramento Country Day School has an interesting discussion of this issue from early 2017. Why questions or problems get excluded might vary, but some of the possibilities are that a question contains an error of some kind of ambiguity that makes it flawed. Or sometimes an item may turn out to be too difficult, so that two answers will seem equally right and there isn’t good evidence to tell which one they think is “right.” Then statistically it’s going to be a 50/50 toss up and that’s what a national sample would show. If that happens, then it’s probably pretty clear that the question was a bad one and isn’t fair. So they don’t score it. (There are probably other ways that questions get tossed too.)

Now think about the effect of having one of these totally vague questions on the test. As one kid or parent noted on Twitter, students end up spending time wracking their brain on a totally stupid ambiguous question that is so bad that it gets thrown out. So now it turns out that time was completely wasted. Most people would probably say that this doesn’t seem fair. On the June test, four questions on the verbal sections (two on reading, two on writing) were excluded from the score–questions that students certainly spent precious time pondering, time spent to no avail, time that could have been better spent on other questions.

When the issue of excluded, unscored questions is combined with sections that are too easy to begin with and must be scored on precipitous curves, the unanswered questions become legion, all further undermining the SAT’s credibility with the public. Students and parents continue to weigh in, and demand further response, at #rescoreJuneSAT. It may come to nothing, but the College Board should listen to their paying customer base’s complaints and concerns and respond in open, transparent ways. If not, they can expect that students, parents, and educators will continue to defect to the alternatives (ACT or test-optional schools).