Andenson, Karen W. "For SAT Maker, a Broader Push to the Classroom," New York Times, 16
August 2005, pp. 1, B9.
To generations of students and their teachers, the College Board has been synonymous with the
SAT test. But these days it has broader ambitions and wants to reach deeply into high school and
even middle school classrooms nationwide.
The board is marketing new products, like English and math curriculums for grades 6 through 12.
It has worked with New York City to start five College Board Schools, with plans to open 13
more in New York and other cities by 2007. It is also trying to improve existing schools, starting
this fall with 11 public high schools outside New York State and adding 19 next year. In
November, it will open an institute for principals.
The board says it is eager to bring new rigor to education. But these efforts are also being driven
by the fact that the board, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, is no longer an
unrivaled force. It faces strong competition from the ACT in college admissions testing, and
some colleges are making the SAT optional. Recent gaffes in SAT scoring raised questions of
confidence in the test and the organization.
Some critics say that as the board expands its reach, it is becoming too much of a business. And
some educators and policy makers question whether its entry into middle and high schools will
bring too much standardization of curriculum and further promote a culture of testing.
The board's changes are being led by Gaston Caperton, a former business executive and
two-term governor of West Virginia, who became its president in 1999. At that time, the board
was confronting numerous problems, including a need to update its technology; a deteriorating
relationship with the Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit group that worked with the board
on the SAT; and the competition from the ACT.
"If the College Board did nothing and kept on doing what it was doing, it would have been eaten
up," said Arthur E. Levine, a former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, who
recently became president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.
Under Mr. Caperton, the board's revenues have doubled to about $530 million, and the new
products are likely to bring millions more. Mr. Caperton has more than doubled the board's staff
and increased its assets. His compensation has jumped, too, to $639,000 last year with a
$110,000 expense account, from $358,000 and a $46,000 expense account when he began.
"I was not brought in here to be the caretaker of the SAT and the A.P.," Mr. Caperton said,
referring to the Advanced Placement program. "I am not a caretaker type."
Mr. Caperton said his goal was "to make the College Board play a bigger role in American
education, to be a force to make American education better."
But after Mr. Caperton's arrival, guidance counselors, college admissions officers and others
complained that the board was becoming more market oriented and less service driven. The
board also faced criticism when it used outside investors to help create a for-profit subsidiary,
CollegeBoard.com. It pulled back and repaid those investors when the Internet bubble burst.
Mr. Caperton said the board needed the outside investment because it did not have enough of its
own money; the Web site still exists and draws about two million visitors a month.
Thomas Toch, a co-founder of Education Sector, a nonpartisan research group in Washington,
said that under Mr. Caperton, the board was "very much focused on the bottom line" and had
"become quite an aggressive business." Despite its nonprofit status, Mr. Toch said, it is trying to
increase its size and profitability, as well as its influence.
"The organization has been heavily dependent for a long time on a single product, the SAT, a
product that has lost favor, or lost market share, if you will," Mr. Toch said, adding that "the A.P.
program has saved the College Board."
Mr. Caperton described the board's expansion into middle and high school education as part of
its mission "to connect students to access and opportunity, to prepare more and more students to
be ready to go to college and succeed."
The board has strong supporters in these efforts, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,
which is helping underwrite the new school startups, the school improvement projects, and
research and development for some of the new products.
"There is a big need for people who can develop high-quality schools for low-income kids," said
Thomas Vander Ark, executive director of the foundation's education program. "We were happy
to convince the College Board to get into the business."
President Bush praised the board's Advanced Placement program in his State of the Union
address this year, saying that having more students take A.P. courses would increase American
Yet some question the board's latest educational efforts.
"We should not say that one size fits all," said George H. Wood, the principal of Federal
Hocking High School in rural Ohio. His school does not offer A.P. courses other than calculus,
Mr. Wood said, because they are "too restrictive in terms of content."
Kati Haycock, director of Education Trust, an advocacy group that supports testing, said she was
concerned about adding even more testing, as some of the board's products do. "It's a little bit of
a problem, with testing, testing, testing," she said. "School officials are getting sick of it all."
Still, Ms. Haycock said her group had reviewed the board's SpringBoard program, which helps
shape what is taught in English and math in grades 6 through 12, and found it "fabulous."
The board is not the only big player expanding in secondary education. Nearly two million
students now take ACT's 8th- and 10th-grade assessment tests, and a growing number of states
are giving the ACT test to all 11th graders. ACT is also increasing its teacher training in middle
and high schools.
And Kaplan Inc., an education company whose business includes test preparation and for-profit
colleges, has begun writing curriculums for grades 6 to 12; it is working in eight school districts,
including Philadelphia, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
But these efforts pale compared with what the College Board is doing.
Some of the biggest growth for the board is in sales of its PSAT/NMSQT, originally intended to
prepare 11th graders for the SAT and later adopted for the National Merit Scholarship
competition. In recent years, the board has also promoted it as a tool to diagnose students'
strengths and weaknesses in grammar, critical thinking and other basic skills, and to identify
which students are capable of doing well on A.P. exams.
Of the 3.1 million students who took the PSAT last year, 53 percent were in 10th grade or below,
compared with 44 percent in 2001.
Margaret A. Smith, superintendent of the Volusia County School District in Florida, where
students now begin taking the PSAT in the eighth grade, said the district moved more than 1,200
students into more advanced courses last year because of information gleaned from the exam.
"We get these great reports from the PSAT, where we can learn a lot about each student," Dr.
But others say that using the test in these ways is inappropriate.
"The PSAT as a diagnostic test is rot, absolute rot," said W. James Popham, a former education
professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is an expert on testing. "They're
trying to find ways to sell more tests."
Board officials say research supports the new uses.
The board is finding markets in cities like Lawrence, Mass., and Greensboro, N.C., that have
large populations of low-income students who have traditionally fared poorly on standardized
tests and dropped out in large numbers.
"We see these as real quality programs that help push and prepare kids for rigorous work and
college," said Terry B. Grier, superintendent of the Guilford County Schools in Greensboro,
which tried the SpringBoard curriculum in 4 of its 19 middle schools last year and will use it in
the rest this fall.
Nearly 500 schools nationwide have signed up for SpringBoard for the coming school year, the
third in which it will have been offered.
Another relatively new product, CollegeEd, is intended to show 7th- to 12th-grade students from
families in which college is not a given that it is a possibility. It will be used in more than 1,300
schools this year, up from 600 last year and 20 in 2000.
And 60 principals are expected to enroll in the inaugural class of the new College Board
Leadership Institute for Principals to study topics like data-driven decision making and
curriculum, instruction and assessment. Tuition is $3,800.
Mr. Caperton said the new College Board Schools, which emphasize college preparation and use
the board's tests and other products, are also laboratories for improving the board's offerings.
The first schools opened in New York City two years ago. Although they adhere to state and city
standards, they have different themes, which the board helps shape. The board also helps choose
Garth Harries, head of the New York City Education Department's Office of New Schools, said
that while the board did not have experience running schools, it had a wealth of other resources.
Furthermore, Mr. Harries said, the board was a partner in the schools, not the primary operator.
"If we had cracked the code of high school education,'‘ he said, "there might be more question of
whether people are interfering and experimenting. But when you have graduation rates hovering
where ours do, having an experienced and entrepreneurial organization like the board is helpful."
Mr. Harries said the early evidence was that the schools were performing well, and he hopes they
will raise graduation rates.
Mr. Vander Ark of the Gates Foundation said that given the board's size and resources, it "has
the potential to be working with a thousand schools in four or five years."
Mr. Caperton does not blanch at the idea. "If we could find the funding," he said, he could
envision starting 100 schools, or even 1,000.