Will the College Board ever force David Coleman to resign?

Vicki Wood over at Powerscore has posted an article on that company’s blog calling for David Coleman to be removed from his position as head of the College Board.

Citing the numerous problems that have plagued the redesigned SAT, including the cheating scandals resulting from the decision to reuse tests internationally and the hundreds of questions reportedly leaked to Reuters, Wood writes: 

David Coleman is the leader of the College Board, and the responsibility for these numerous failures rightly lies with him. We believe that the only acceptable solution to these breaches—and really, the only way to save the integrity of the SAT and begin the long process of repair—is for Coleman to resign immediately. Given the arrogance he has displayed in the past we aren’t counting on him stepping down voluntarily, so it’s up to the College Board: admit responsibility, remove David Coleman, and immediately repair your broken test security system. The future of millions of college applicants is at stake.

While I am in complete agreement with Wood — the repeated disasters of the Coleman regime are the predictable result of appointing a self-involved Gates-funded hack who nonetheless believes himself to be the savior of American education   — I’ve also become quite cynical about the prospect of substantial change occurring anytime soon.  

Probably the most intriguing aspect of the SAT redesign for me was watching as the College Board deliberately concocted a collection of distortions, half-truths, and outright falsehoods, which were promptly lapped up and unthinkingly disseminated by such august publications as the New York Times and The Atlantic (among many others), and eventually swallowed by the public at large. 

Even people who were largely skeptical about the new test were often taken in to some extent. As I heard one $450/hr. tutor say earnestly, “It’s great that they’re asking students to use evidence.”

It was kind of like watching a mini edu-version of 1984 unfold in real time, a lesson in propaganda I never expected to experience. It was fascinating, but it was also bizarre and more than a little terrifying. No matter how vague or ridiculous the assertions, it never seemed to occur to anyone — college admissions officers and high school counselors included — to question them or to press for specifics. It’s not as if anyone would have had to dig particularly deep to find the problems. 

Not only that, but state testing committees in Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, and Connecticut accepted at face value the College Board’s vacuous assertion that the redesigned test reflected “what students were doing in the classroom.” Leaving aside the fact that Common Core was only implemented in public schools, which many students in those states presumably do not attend, the members of these committees appear not to have noticed that the Common Core ELA standards are devoid of specific prescriptions (meaning that any test purporting to test skills laid out in the Standards may or may not reflect what students have actually done in class), and that there is therefore absolutely no way to ensure consistency between districts.

These are basic commonsense concerns that should be apparent to anyone who has spent more than 30 seconds thinking about the issues involved, and the fact that so many presumably educated professionals failed to notice the gap between the College Board’s rhetoric and the reality of the situation raises some very serious questions about the mindset of the people in charge of education at the state level. How on earth can students be taught to think critically when the people responsible for overseeing the school system are so easily taken in by fancy PowerPoints? 

As far as I can tell, the Washington Post and Reuters are the only major media outlets to regularly display anything resembling skepticism about the overhaul of the exam. And any prestigious publication that has written glowingly about Coleman in the past is unlikely to turn around and admit to how badly it was taken in. Not to mention the fact that anything involving Common Core has become so toxic that no one even wants to touch it. 

As a result, the true extent of these problems is just not on most people’s radar; beyond a relatively narrow slice of the edu-blogosphere, it’s largely a non issue. When people have so many other things to worry about, education gets stuck on the back burner, and it is highly unlikely that there will be any mass outcry. 

In addition, Coleman is presumably a key force behind the replacement of the PARCC with the SAT in some states, the switching of one Common Core test with another being very much to his advantage. Given that not all that states involved have made the change yet, it stands to reason that the details of some of those deals are still being worked out, and it is highly unlikely that the College Board would risk jeopardizing the prospect of gaining so much market share.  

Besides, the redesign of the SAT is an established fact, and it is very, very hard to undo things that have already been implemented, especially on a national scale. At this point, the College Board has no other option but to keep going on the track it’s established for itself, regardless of how involved Coleman is on a day-to-day basis. Save for a complete institutional implosion (which is of course not entirely out of the question), there is no other option.

The forces propping up Coleman are not about to back down and admit they were wrong either. If there’s one thing that’s become clear about “data-driven” reform, it’s that when the data don’t show the desired outcomes, the solution is to obfuscate the issues, massage the numbers, then double down and do more of whatever wasn’t working in the first place. 

And thus the crises continue. 

When it eventually becomes clear that the situation is unsalvageable, the powers that be will walk away and leave someone else to clean up the mess. And it will be a big, big mess.

Now, I could be wrong, but I suspect we’re still a fair distance away from that point. The College Board is still functioning, however ineptly, and for the time being, that is reason enough not to shake things up. 

A list of College Board failures

Thanks to a blog reader for submitting this comment.  

How many abysmal fails has College Board committed/experienced in the past 18 months?

The test (June 2015) with a misprint on the last sections about how much time students had that led to uneven test administrations across the country.

Disruptions in sending October (or was it November) scores to colleges because they started using their new system for score distribution – for the old test scores – before most admissions office had shifted over to that system (because this was still the old test format).

Multiple breeches of security in different parts of Asia during multiple administrations (don’t we now expect to read about those breeches after every test administration?)

Making a testing site re-administer the test because CB lost / couldn’t find the student answer sheets. (This item barely made the news: http://www.kvue.com/news/local/williamson-county/sat-answer-sheets-lost-students-retake-saturday/274699783 )

Yet several states are replacing the state high school exams (PARCC or other) with the College Board’s SAT.  Here is a report from Connecticut about the results of using a college admissions test as the state-wide test for high school: http://www.educationworld.com/a_news/results-connecticut%E2%80%99s-first-statewide-sat-exam-reveal-sobering-achievement-gap-1119406746

Maybe it is because I wasn’t paying as close attention back then, but it seems as if these sorts of debacles are occurring with alarming regularity in the Coleman ‘Redesign Era’ of the SAT.

Anyone care to add to the list? 

College Board logic

The following passage is excerpted from a recent College Board press release: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/one-year-since-launch-official-sat-practice-on-khan-academy-is-leveling-the-playing-field-for-students-300278934.html.

A year ago today, Official SAT® Practice for the new SAT went live on KhanAcademy.org, making free, world-class, personalized online practice available for all students. There are now more than 1.4 million unique users on Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy — this represents four times the total population of students who use all commercial test prep classes in a year combined. Data show that the practice platform is reaching students across race, ethnicities, and income levels — mirroring the percentage of SAT takers. Almost half of all SAT takers on March 5 used Official SAT Practice to prepare, causing a 19 percent drop in the number of students who paid for SAT prep resources.


Which of the following would most directly undermine the College Board’s assertion that the number of students using Official SAT Practice was responsible for the 19 percent decline in the number of students paying for SAT prep resources? 

(A) Providers of SAT prep resources have begun offering low-cost preparation programs in order to more effectively compete with Khan Academy.
(B) Students who sign up for free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy typically use that platform as their only resource for SAT preparation.
(C) The number of students who took the SAT this year was larger than the number of students who took the SAT in recent years. 
(D) Students who in the past would have taken the SAT and paid for SAT preparation resources instead took the ACT and paid for ACT preparation resources. 
(E) More students registered for free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy than registered for the paid prep previously offered by the College Board. 

(Scroll down for the answer)











Answer: D

Virtually every experienced tutor I’ve heard from has made a concerted effort to steer students toward the ACT this year. Furthermore, families who pay for test-prep also tend to be savvy enough to want their children to prep for an exam that is a known entity, and for which a substantial body of authentic practice material exists, and to not be offered up as guinea pigs.

The decision to use the SAT as a state graduation test also provides a possible explanation for the alleged drop in paid test prep. I’ve heard from other sources that non-required SAT registration was actually down by about 20% this year. It therefore stands to reason that a significant percentage of the students taking rSAT were students who would not have taken the test, had they not be required to do so by their schools. This is a major shift in the test-taking population, and it makes comparisons between the pre-March 2016 group and the post-March 2016 group very difficult. The students taking the test only because of a school requirement would almost certainly not have paid for test preparation in the first place.

If the College Board’s statistics are correct (and based on recent revelations, there’s considerable reason to question whether that is in fact that case), it seems likely that a combination of factors produced the drop. There are undoubtedly many students who are using Khan Academy exclusively, but 1) many of those students would not have paid for test prep in previous years anyway; and 2) some of those students will not meet their goals through Khan prep alone and will sign up for a class or decide to work with a tutor. Summer is when both of those things are most likely to happen, also calling spring statistics regarding paid prep into question. Given the extent to which Khan was touted, it also seems reasonable to assume that more students deliberately waited for their scores before deciding whether to opt for paid prep. 

Never mind the fact that registering as a “unique user” on Khan in no way indicates that a student will use the site for the type of consistent, sustained study required for improvement, or even that they’ll ever bother to log in again. Some students certainly will use its offerings to maximum advantage, but again, those are the super-focused self-starters who would have worked on their own regardless. And they are a very small minority. (Note to tech geniuses: the fact that you had the drive to sit yourself down at the age of 16 and teach yourself calculus for fun does not mean that the average 16 year-old non-tech genius can do the same.)

ETS may have its problems, but at least its employees tend to understand the very basics of logic, like, oh, say, the difference between correlation and causation. 

It’s statements like these that really force one to question the College Board’s ability to produce a reasoning test. 

Former College Board executive blows the whistle about the new SAT

Manuel Alfaro, a former executive director at the College Board, has written a series of posts on LinkedIn detailing the myriad problems plaguing the development of the new exam. 

According to Alfaro, not only were many of the items developed for the first administration of the test extraordinarily problematic (see below), but many of the items that appeared on the test were not actually reviewed by the Content Advisory Committee until after the test forms had been constructed.

Committee members repeatedly attempted to call David Coleman’s attention to the problem, but were ignored. 

Alfaro was also responsible for rewriting and rubber-stamping the redesigned test specifications in order to hide the fact that they were taken directly from the Common Core middle- and high school standards. (Because, of course, the College Board expected everyone to somehow forget that David Coleman, the head of the College Board, was also responsible for Common Core.) 


The College Board completed the backstory for the test specifications by citing reports/analyses performed by independent groups as evidence of the alignment between the redesigned SAT’s research-based, empirical backbone and the Common Core.

Those “reports/analyses” were then used to persuade states such as Colorado and Michigan to drop the ACT in favor of the SAT, giving the College Board thousands of students in additional market share. 

And furthermore: 

Of the many concerns raised by the Content Advisory Committee, here are the top three:

Item Quality: Committee members were very concerned with the quality of the items the College Board brought to committee meetings for review. Their biggest concern was the large number of items that were mathematically flawed; items that did not have correct answers; and items that did not have accurate or realistic contexts. Some members even went as far as stating that they had never seen so many seriously flawed items.

Development Schedule: Committee members felt that schedules did not allow them enough time to perform thorough reviews. Given the large number of items they had to review (and the poor quality of the items), they needed more time to provide meaningful comments and input.

Development Process: Committee members felt that the process used to develop the items was inadequate. They felt that the process lacked the rigor required to produce the high quality items necessary for item data to be useful. (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/shining-spotlight-dark-corners-college-board-concerns-manuel-alfaro?trk=mp-reader-card)

Alfaro also indicates that an abnormally high number of items were revised, often to the point of being completely rewritten, after being pre-tested. As a result, some questions that appeared on the actual test had effectively never been vetted. 

At least this explains why the College Board wouldn’t let tutors into the first administration of the new exam. The only reason to surround a test with that type of secrecy is to try to hide how poorly written the test is. If the College Board had so few items benchmarked for validity, it would also explain why the March test was reused in June. 

Alfaro has also started a petition to ask the White House to investigate the College Board’s misdoings, but even if he does succeed in getting enough signatures, if I suspect that might be akin to asking the fox to check up on the henhouse. Coleman and the Common Core crew have deep ties to the Obama administration, via Arne Duncan. These are problems that go all the way to the top. 

Is the College Board reusing new SATs already?

According to the chatter on College Confidential, some students are reporting that they received June SATs identical to their March tests.

At this point, it’s also common knowledge that Asian test-prep companies have been distributing the March test. Inevitably, then, some lucky students will have prepped for the June exam using…the June exam. (As if barring adults  from non-released exams was ever going to prevent this sort of occurrence.) 

This comes just as the College Board and Khan Academy announce that they have successfully leveled the playing field among test-takers. 

The College Board has been in the habit of recycling tests for quite a while, but it would stand to reason that three months isn’t quite long enough to wait. 

Somehow I don’t think this is what the College Board meant by “transparency.”