Is Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter in Charge of SAT Scoring Curves?

Deciphering the August 2019 SAT Scoring Curve 

Posted on Sep 21, 2019 11:30:33 AM

How does one explain the inexplicable or make sense of the senseless? We suspect that you can’t do either, but we’re going to at least describe our bewilderment regarding the scoring results of the August 2019 SAT.

The conundrum was first surfaced for us when the director of one of our learning centers got a call from a student who was concerned because her score on August SAT had gone down from the previous level she’d achieved. When the director compared the results of the two tests in question, she discovered that the student had actually answered more questions correctly on the August test than on the previous test – in short, she’d done better – but had gotten a lower score!

That’s like running a race faster but finishing with a worse time, a feat requiring straining relativity, smacking of worm holes, and raising the possibilities of alternate universes. Or maybe it’s a bizarre change to the race course. And that appears to be exactly what the College Board, the SAT’s owner/creator, did.

The comparison table immediately below shows the score disparities between two 2019 SATs based on a student answering the given number of questions incorrectly in each of the SAT’s Writing (W), Reading (R), and Math (M) sections.

Comparison of SAT scores from two 2019 tests based on # of incorrect answers

                       
 

March 9, 2019 SAT

   

August 2019 SAT

 

# Wrong Per Section

W

R

M

Com

 

# Wrong Per Section

W

R

M

Com

Points Change

1

390

390

790

1570

 

1

390

390

770

1550

-20

2

380

380

770

1530

 

2

370

380

750

1500

-30

3

370

380

760

1510

 

3

360

370

730

1460

-50

4

350

370

740

1460

 

4

350

370

710

1430

-30

5

350

360

730

1440

 

5

340

360

700

1400

-40

6

340

350

720

1410

 

6

330

350

680

1360

-50

While the August 2019 SAT scores are lower than the March 2019 SAT scores in every case based on the number of questions answered incorrectly, we’ve shown the two most egregious-looking point drops in bold font. Note that getting three wrong per section on the August SAT results in a 50-point lower composite score than did getting three wrong on the March SAT. Since college admissions is competitive and becoming increasing so, students depend on SAT (and ACT) score for acceptances at colleges, so the College Board bears a heavy responsibility for preventing something like this from occurring, but, in this case, it failed.

Unfortunately for the students involved, their parents, and everybody else who’s making an effort to help those students do well, this was just the most recent occurrence of the same problem. Last summer, our blog titled Wacky Scores on the June 2018 SAT discussed at length the “bad score curve” on that test and posited that, the highest-scoring students were the most affected. However, in retrospect, we were wrong: The bad curves hurt every student, especially the middle-of-the-road scorers and those below them.

As was the case with the June 2018 SAT, the students that got whacked the hardest by the SAT’s most recent bad scoring curve were the middle-of-the-road kids. If students routinely get about six questions wrong per section due to knowledge gaps and get a few more wrong due to sloppy errors or not understanding the questions, they’ll end up with comparatively lousy-looking scores even if the sloppy errors get corrected and they learn how to properly interpret the questions.

Consider the not-necessarily-hypothetical case of a high school junior who took the May 2018 SAT and then worked hard over the next year-and-a-quarter to give him/herself a shot at doing lots better on the August 2019 SAT just prior to applying to colleges. The table below shows how substantially worse his/her score could look even if he/she answered fewer questions incorrectly on the August 2019 SAT than on the May 2018 SAT.

Comparison of May 2018 and August 2019 SAT scores based on # of incorrect answers

 

May 2018 SAT

   

August 2019 SAT

 

# Wrong Per Section

W

R

M

Com

 

# Wrong Per Section

W

R

M

Com

Points Change

1

390

400

800

1590

 

1

390

390

770

1550

-40

2

390

390

790

1570

 

2

370

380

750

1500

-70

3

370

390

770

1530

 

3

360

370

730

1460

-70

4

360

380

760

1500

 

4

350

370

710

1430

-70

5

350

370

740

1460

 

5

340

360

700

1400

-60

6

350

370

730

1450

 

6

330

350

680

1360

-90

For example, getting six wrong per section – for a total of 18 wrong – on the May 2018 SAT would have resulted in a composite score of 1450, while getting four wrong per section – for a total of 12 wrong – on the August 2019 SAT would have resulted in a composite score of 1430. That’s one-third fewer wrong answers resulting in a lower score.

If this seems to be unfair to you, we’re seeing eye-to-eye. But maybe the College Board just doesn’t “do” fair – or even know how to do it.

The one thing of which we’re certain is that, all other things being equal, students submitting August 2019 SAT scores will be at a distinct disadvantage compared to those submitting March 2019 SAT scores.

Welcome to the Hatter’s tea party.

white ceramic teapot and teacup

 


Topics: SAT Test Concordance SAT Curve

 

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