What Tests Don’t Get Right



photo by William Gedney

Did you read the story about the Florida honors student who is considering suing the Education Testing Service? Kamilah Campbell wasn’t satisfied with her first SAT score of 900, so the B-average student hired a tutor, took online classes, bought and studied SAT prep books, all in an effort to improve her score.

Her hard work paid off. She retook the test and scored a respectable 1230. Retaking the SAT or ACT is a common practice. Many students retake the test in an effort to get a better score.

Ms. Campbell was elated. The improved score would likely pave the way for her to attend Florida State University, where she plans to major in dance.

So imagine her surprise when she received a letter from ETS that stated in part: “We are writing to you because based on a preliminary review, there appears to be substantial evidence that your scores … are invalid,” it said. “Our preliminary concerns are based on substantial agreement between your answers on one or more scored sections of the test and those of other test takers. The anomalies noted above raise concerns about the validity of your scores.”

In other words, they were accusing Ms. Campbell of cheating on the SAT.  They were refusing to validate her higher score.

I went down this same road with one of my own children.

A 4.0 student throughout high school, my girl was not a good test-taker. She earned that 4.0 through sheer steely willpower, which it sounds like Ms. Campbell possesses.

She fretted about taking the SAT. Her nerves got the better of her during the first exam. She, too, earned a score that she felt didn’t reflect her abilities. So she retook the test some months later. Like Ms. Campbell, she studied up. She wasn’t as nervous the second go around. This was something she was sure she could do. And her score reflected it. Just like Ms. Campbell’s, our daughter’s score improved significantly.

Then she received the same sort of letter from ETS. Her score would not be validated. She had to use her first score on her college applications.

For our girl, though, the issue was no longer about the test score. She was distraught, inconsolable, that anyone thought she had cheated. She was a person who strove daily to live a life of integrity and goodness. She was mortified that ETS was accusing her of cheating.

They did not know my daughter. I told them that in one of the many arguments we had over the next few months. They didn’t understand how hurt she was that they were accusing her of cheating. It wasn’t just the cheating, they were suggesting she was lying as well. Lying about the cheating.

The principal at the high school who knew our daughter filed a protest. So did the school counselor. All to no avail. The ETS board was adamant. They determined her improved score could only have come about because she had cheated, then lied about it.

I wish I had thought to hire an attorney to challenge them. It was ridiculous and a very hurtful thing to have happen to such a goodhearted girl during her last few months of high school, where she had worked so hard.

The university she attended accepted her without an SAT score, since she refused to use the first score. They said they didn’t need it. They gave her a full ride tuition scholarship based on her grades and her skills. She graduated 4 years later and today works for another Oregon university.

I remained angry at ETS for the damage they did to my daughter, and it appears many others. I knew she had not cheated. I knew she had not lied because I know my daughter’s character.

I also knew from personal experience that those college entrance tests are bogus. They are a business. They make millions yearly. There is an entire multi-million dollar industry set up around college testing.

I know from personal experience as both a college instructor and as a student myself, that the test score does not reflect one’s ability to succeed in college.  The only thing ETS scores is one’s ability to sit for long periods of time and concentrate.

Personally, I think any student who wants to attend college should be guaranteed that opportunity. They will either take advantage of an education or they will fail out. And no test out there can determine ahead of time which students will succeed and which ones won’t. After all, having the ability to succeed isn’t the same has having the determination to do it.

I suspect Kamilah Campbell will graduate FSU with honors one day. She’s already proven she can do hard things.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of KARLY SHEEHAN, a true crime story.


Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

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