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Case of Suspicious SAT Scores Goes to New York’s High Court

October 18, 1995

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ The first time Brian Dalton took the college entrance exam in 1991, he had mononucleosis and scored a dismal 620 _ almost 300 points below the national average.

Six months later as a senior, he says he retook the test healthy and prepared, and scored 1,030 out of a possible 1,600.

The administrator of the Scholastic Assessment Test _ used by most U.S. colleges as a standard for acceptance _ called the improvement ``astonishing″ and suspicious, and refused to release the higher score to colleges.

Dalton, who went on to college using the lower score, sued for $1.35 million and won in two lower courts. The Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., which gives the test, appealed and takes the case to New York’s highest court on Thursday.

Dalton argues that he didn’t get into the colleges of his choice, including his top pick, St. John’s University in New York City, because the higher score was not released. He also says he may have lost out on a swimming scholarship.

``No student and his or her family should be treated as the Daltons were in this case,″ said Dalton’s lawyer, Vincent Nicolosi.

Dalton, 21, is now in his fourth year at Queens College in New York City.

The ETS, which maintains that two different people signed Dalton’s answer sheets, has never ultimately lost a case when it suspects fraud. Its lawyers are expected to argue Thursday that ETS must be given the right to disallow questionable results like Dalton’s to protect the integrity of a test given to some 2.4 million U.S. high school students each year.

New York’s Court of Appeals is expected to rule by the end of the year.

ETS says red flags go up if the overall score goes up 350 points; Dalton’s score increased 410 points.

Two handwriting experts for the ETS determined that the person taking Dalton’s second test was not the same person who signed the answer sheet the first time around, when Dalton was a junior at Holy Cross High School in the New York City borough of Queens.

In a lower court trial in 1992, however, Dalton produced his own handwriting expert who said both answer sheets were signed by the same person. Dalton also called the proctor for the second test who recognized him as having been there.

After questioning the test results, the ETS told Dalton he could retake the SAT or try to prove that he took the test with the higher score. Dalton failed to convince the ETS, and took his case to court.

``The majority of the people fall to the whim of ETS, and retake the test,″ Nicolosi said. ``This is a perfect example where one of the students ... said, `To hell with you. I am not going to take a retest just because you want me to.‴

Philip Shaeffer, an ETS attorney, admits that the alternatives the service offers to students it suspects of fraud have shortcomings.

``ETS has neither the mandate nor the resources to determine who cheated and who did not,″ he said.

Courts in Louisiana, Kentucky, New Jersey and the U.S. Court of Appeals have recognized the ETS’ right to cancel test scores it determines are invalid.

Nicolosi said Dalton has won in New York so far because he has shown that the ETS ``does not have well-established, standardized procedures for reviewing questioned SAT scores, or even for questioning their validity in the first place.″

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