SAT blunder may affect scholarship eligibility

March 26, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

At many colleges, the biggest impact of the mistakes made by the College Board in scoring the October SAT will be on eligibility for scholarships, not on admissions decisions, college officials say.

"With admissions, the colleges say they are practicing holistic review," said Donald E. Heller, an associate professor of education at Pennsylvania State University and an expert in student financial aid. "But with scholarships, some use flat cutoff points with the SAT score. They say if you score above 1,200 or 1,800 on the SAT, you are eligible for a scholarship. If you don't get that score, you don't get that scholarship."

Jennifer Topiel, a spokeswoman for the board, said Friday that the board recommended scores not be used that way.

But the reality is that they are used in many college and statewide scholarship programs. Heller said that he found in a recent study that seven out of 14 states that offered broad-based merit scholarship programs used the SAT scores as a primary award criteria, usually along with students' grade-point averages. And, he said, many colleges that offered their own merit scholarships did the same.

Over the past two weeks, the board has revealed that because of technical problems in scanning the October exam, the scores of more than 5,000 students were inaccurately reported. It notified colleges of corrections for 4,411 students whose scores were too low -- by as many as 450 points out of a possible 2,400 -- but is not making changes for 600 students whose scores were too high.

Christine A. Halloran, an assistant director of admissions at the College of New Jersey, called the scoring revisions a "nonevent" in terms of admissions because much of the decision-making "is based on the strength of the academic transcript."

But she said that under the state's merit scholarship program, which is tied closely to the SAT, about five students would receive better scholarships because the board had raised their October scores.

The New Jersey program offers a sliding scale of scholarships that depends on a student's class rank and SAT scores. In-state students in the top 5 percent of their graduating classes are eligible for full tuition, room and board, plus a laptop computer, if they earn a combined score of 1,500 to 1,600 on the math and reading portions of the SAT. Those with lower scores receive less.

Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa., had one applicant whose score correction of more than 300 points meant the difference between a $5,000 scholarship and one worth $12,500.

"I know it is really hard for the public to understand why 50 points can make a difference," said Dennis Trotter, a vice president and dean of admissions.

"A swing of even 80 or 100 points on the SAT could mean the difference between the highest-level scholarship or not receiving one at all, because it is all so competitive," he said.

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