Mix-up causes PSAT problems

Jan. 21, 2004, midnight | By Branden Buehler | 19 years, 10 months ago

Payment misclassification results in non-scoring

Ten Blair juniors elected to take the SAT I on Saturday, Jan 10 after Blair mistakenly classified the students as not having paid for the PSAT. The students will also take the SAT II Writing Test on Jan 24 in order to qualify for scholarships.

Blair implemented a new system this year to manage PSAT administration in which a database of students was divided into students who had paid for the PSAT and those who had not. Students who were categorized as not paying did not have their PSATs scored. In previous years, Blair has attempted to have as many juniors as possible pay for the test, and then has paid for all the tests to be scored.

At least 12 students who had paid for the PSATs ended up being marked in the database as not having paid, according to Assistant Principal Richard Wilson, Blair's test coordinator. Wilson, however, does not know how the error occurred. "I don't exactly know where the snafu is," he said, "but it has been big enough to cause consternation for about 12 students."

Junior Ari Halper-Stromberg, one of the students incorrectly categorized, said the primary problem with not having the tests scored was related to scholarships. After learning that his PSAT had not been scored, he said one of the first questions he asked was "what about National Merit Scholarships?" National Merit Scholarships, which distribute money for education through single payment scholarships, corporate-sponsored scholarship awards, and college-sponsored awards, require valid PSAT scores. Another scholarship opportunity, the Maryland Distinguished Scholar program, also requires valid test scores.

Wilson's initial suggestion for the students was to have them grade the tests themselves, with the intention of students still being able to prepare for the SATs through learning their scores. That solution, however, would not account for scholarship requirements, so Wilson made inquiries to the College Board, which is a co-sponsor of the PSAT. Wilson was told that using SAT I and SAT II Writing Test scores would be acceptable for scholarships. Ten of the students chose to take the SAT I and SAT II in January, while two others opted to take them later in the year.

Elaine Detweiler, Public Information Director for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, cannot remember any specific instances like Blair's, but said that it is not unheard of for the SAT I and SAT II Writing Test scores to be used to replace the PSAT scores. "We know since the test is only given one time, there's bound to be a few occurrences where circumstances arise that [students] will need alternate situations," Detweiler said.

There was still a dilemma, though, because students had to take both the SAT I and SAT II by scholarship deadlines. "The problem was there were two testing dates needed," said Wilson. Fortunately, there was an SAT I being administered at Gaithersburg High School on Jan 10 because inclement weather had caused SAT I administration on Dec 6 to be postponed. Wilson then called the Gaithersburg test coordinator and was able to arrange for the Blair students to be able to take the SAT I that day. Planning for the students to take the SAT II Writing Test at that point became a non-issue because the test was being administered at a normal testing time and date at Blair on Jan 24.

Although the substituted SAT I and SAT II testing cost Blair $58.50 per student, Wilson estimated that Blair would still save money on PSAT administration this year. Due to Blair not having every PSAT administered scored, Blair "will not be spending as much as we would've [spent in previous years]," Wilson said.

According to Wilson, the decision to not heavily force juniors to pay for PSATs and then only having those who paid be scored was made with the purpose of not compelling students to pay for something they might not take seriously anyway. Blair "decided not to ram it down their throats," he said.

Wilson said he is unsure what system the school will use next year to manage PSAT administration. This was Wilson's third year in charge of running the PSAT administration, and "every year we handle it a bit differently," he said. Next year, he explained, an "administrative team will decide how they want to handle" the PSATs.

Most parents and students were pleased with the end result., Wilson said. While he admitted some parents were "frustrated," he said most had been "understanding" and had "gone out of their way to say, ‘It's not your fault.'" Students, Wilson said, have "been great about" the situation.

However, the ordeal did leave some negative feelings. Halper-Stromberg was upset by the fact that the administration did not provide any indication before testing that students had not paid. "They should've notified me I didn't pay," he said. Halper-Stromberg believes that if the administration notified those who hadn't paid, the database error would have been caught. "After this incident, I don't view the administration in high light. I would characterize them as irresponsible."

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Branden Buehler. Branden Buehler is a senior in the magnet program. When he is not doing schoolwork, work for Silver Chips Online, or swimming for the Blair swim team, he could possibly be found playing foosball or playing his guitar and recording songs in a futile attempt … More »

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