Owner of SAT college tests battles criticism

BOSTON – The nonprofit College Board, which owns the SAT college entrance exam, is demanding that its chief critic remove from its Web site data showing that minority and poor students scored lower than white and upper-class kids.

In a letter to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, also called FairTest, the College Board claims the Cambridge-based nonprofit organization violated copyright law by posting the scores without permission.

FairTest, which opposes what it considers overreliance on standardized tests, posted the Oct. 27 letter on its Web site, www.fairtest.org, along with its refusal to comply with the College Board’s demand. FairTest argues that the data is widely available in the public domain and therefore not subject to copyright protection.

The FairTest Web posting breaks down the SAT scores of 2004 college-bound seniors by gender, ethnicity and family income.

It showed that, on average, black students scored a combined 857 (math and verbal), Mexican-American and Puerto Rican students 909, other Latino students 929, white students 1,059 and Asian students 1,084. The overall average was 1,026.

Scores also rose steadily as family income rose. Students from families making $10,000 or less scored a combined 872 on average. Students from families making more than $100,000 scored on average a combined 1,115.

More than 1.4 million members of the class of 2004 took the SAT, and 37 percent were minorities, a record.

The SAT, along with the separate ACT, was designed to help predict a prospect’s likely success as a freshman year. Critics have attacked the tests as unfair, chiefly because white students tend to do better than other groups. Many reasons are offered, including family income and education, school quality, courses taken, access to tutors and test-prep courses.

FairTest estimates the number of schools that have ended or reduced reliance on SAT scores has doubled to 700 in the past few years.

The College Board next spring will administer a revamped SAT. The changes were prompted by colleges’ demands for more ways to evaluate applicants’ writing abilities.

“They’re trying to eliminate criticism at a time when they’re trying to sell product,” said FairTest spokesman Robert Schaeffer. “Every newspaper in the country prints charts similar to that. They’ve made no effort to crack down on newspapers and research journals.”

The College Board’s letter, signed by legal affairs assistant director Tasheem Lomax-Plaxico, refers only to copyright issues and doesn’t mention the content of the posting in question.

Spokeswoman Chiara Coletti told The New York Times there’s no effort to hide facts. She said FairTest’s use of the data may not be new – FairTest says it has publicized such data for 20 years – but it’s the first they heard of it.

“No one ever brought it to our attention before,” Coletti said. “But if it comes to our attention, we have to protect our copyright.”

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