The hypocrisy of the College Board strikes again

College Admissions | SAT Prep

The College Board Shipwreck.jpgis at it once more. It’s no secret that PowerScore has been critical of the Board’s decisions and their leader, David Coleman, since he came aboard and replotted the course of their flagship program, the SAT. But to be fair, he fired the first shot over the bow. In 2014, during a presentation vainly entitled “Delivering Opportunity” which was intended to unveil the new components of the SAT, Coleman accused test prep providers of “intimidating parents” and creating a “perception” that students who use test preparation have advantages over those who don’t. In other words, test prep providers bully parents into believing that test prep is essential to increasing scores on the SAT, but this is a false notion that people like me have forced on you, the unsuspecting and uneducated public. Ironically, within minutes of denouncing test prep providers, Coleman announced the College Board’s brand new partnership with Khan Academy, a test preparation website. The hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness was undeniable: in one breath he claimed test prep didn’t work, but in the next he was offering test prep to all test takers. But the College Board still refused to directly admit that test prep might actually lead to score increases, and until recently their website stated, “Coaching companies’ current estimates of the benefits of coaching for the SAT are much too high. Coached students are only slightly more likely to have large score gains than uncoached students. In addition, about 1/3 of students experience no score gain or score loss following coaching.” Ever the snake-oil salesman, Coleman wanted to blame the test prep industry for all of the problems of the SAT while at the same time offering test prep as the antidote to claims of critics that preparing for the SAT was too expensive and unfair to certain groups. Such posturing and pretense must have been terribly uncomfortable. 

Last week, however, the College Board changed its position on test prep by announcing on its website that students are seeing 115 point average score increases when they commit to 20 hours of practice on Khan Academy. This statistic really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Until now, everyone but the College Board seemed to know that “practice makes perfect” (and for further evidence of this, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of a blog from PowerScore’s CEO).  But what may surprise you is the motivation behind this announcement. The College Board masquerades as a non-profit, but this company is Big Business, no different from United Airlines or Comcast. Most critics believe the Coleman was brought on and the test was changed solely to increase revenue, despite the fact that the College Board had over $750 million a year in revenue prior to his arrival. Coleman himself makes over $900,000 a year and nearly two dozen employees earn over $300,000 per year, a fact that has been a source of contention for some organizations who claim that the College Board is violating its non-profit status. So make no mistake about the reason for the partnership with Khan Academy: it was not created because the members of the College Board suddenly developed a charitable and philanthropic streak that spurred them to offer students free test prep, but because students and parents already knew that test prep leads to score increases. By offering free test prep in 2015, the College Board could attract more students to the SAT over the ACT, and now, by finally admitting to score increases due to test prep, they can court even more test takers. Do not be fooled by the College Board’s “perceived” benevolence; these self-serving statements are made for the sole purpose of enhancing its image, which leads to an increased number of test takers and more money in the executives’ non-profit pockets.

 This duplicity is widely known among test prep experts and education pundits; this Washington Post article calls the College Board and Coleman into question over their retracted positions. But despite all the negative publicity that the SAT and the College Board have received in the last year (see any of the Reuters exposés for more information), this test keeps gaining traction with ill-informed state boards of education. I had hoped the sinking of the College Board ship was near, but Coleman has masterfully fooled many into believing his lifeboat can save them all. Nothing will change at the College Board until parents, teachers, and counselors demand a truly non-profit, transparent, and quality assessment from their state.


Photo: "Sunken Ship" courtesy of HazelthePikachu