Why you can't take the SAT in the summer

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(MoneyWatch) Earlier this month, word reached the media that the College Board was going to make an exception to its rule that the SAT test isn't administered in the summer.

Over the years many teenagers and their parents (myself included) have wished that the College Board would make the SAT test available in the summer. The College Board offers the SAT in early June when many teenagers are still in school.

Plenty of people were riled up up when they learned the identity of the group getting the special dispensation to take the SAT in August. The lucky students were to be enrolled in an expensive test prep camp at Amherst College.

All hell broke lose when the news hit the press, which prompted the College Board to withdraw the opportunity.

The incident, however, made me wonder why teenagers can't routinely take the SAT during the summer months. After all, many students would enjoy more time to study for the test in the summer and not be distracted by school obligations.

The College Board's SAT policy explanation When I contacted the College Board about this issue, I received a lengthy response back from Kathleen Steinberg, the executive director of communications at the College Board. Here is her lengthy explanation for the lack of summer SAT testing:

The current testing calendar is designed, in large part, to accommodate the needs of colleges that use SAT scores in the admission process.

Additionally, since many of our 7,000 test centers are located in high schools and the majority of our test center staff are teachers, counselors and other educators, conducting testing during the school year ensures an optimal availability of both testing facilities and staff to operate them.

And, as research shows SAT performance is linked directly to the type and rigor of coursework test-takers pursue in high school, there also is value in having students take the SAT when they are actively engaged in classroom study.

The number of test takers is significantly higher
The SAT was administered in the summer at various times in the past, but this was long before the test was administered to millions of students annually via 7,000 test centers in more than 170 countries. For instance, I have anecdotal information that the SAT was administered in the summer during the early 1970s and have seen "College Entrance Exam Board" registration booklets from the early 1950s showing that the SAT was offered in August, but not in October or November as it is today.

Of course, participation in standardized testing was much different then, as approximately 95,000 SAT exams were administered annually in the early 1950s compared to nearly 3 million during the 2011-2012 school year.

Interest in summer SAT tests
Many students and educators have suggested that offering the SAT during the summer would enable students to take the exam at a time when they are (presumably) unencumbered by classroom work, homework, preparation for other exams and non-academic extra-curricular activities. While we are exploring the possibility of a summer SAT administration, we have not made the decision to do so, nor do we have a set timetable for such a decision.

Following are some of the logistical and operational considerations that must be evaluated:

1. Test center availability.
Many test centers are located in high schools, and high school buildings are often closed during the summer months.  Would it be possible to open enough test centers on a summer Saturday (and also on Sunday for students who test with accommodations requiring two-day testing and for students who cannot test on Saturday due to religious observance)?

2. Availability of staff.
We rely on counselors, teachers and other educators to serve as test center staff. Would we be able to adequately staff test centers in the summer?

3. What is the true level of interest in summer testing?
How many students would take advantage of summer testing? Is the interest nationwide or more regional in nature? Would we have enough test-centers and staff to meet the demand? How would a summer administration impact participation in the current test dates? (i.e. do we need to add an eighth national administration or shift the dates of the current seven national administrations?)

4. Availability of fee waivers.
More than 20 percent of students currently take the SAT for free as part of the SAT fee-waiver program, and fee-waivers are distributed in-school by high school counselors. What steps would we have to take to ensure qualifying students have access to fee-waivers for summer testing?

Bottom line:
None of the issues that Steinberg raised above strikes me as deal breakers. I think the College Board will discover that there is a huge demand for summer testing. Yes, it would take considerable effort to launch summer test dates, but it would be well worth it.

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