High-Stakes Testing

Each year, a million or so high school students pay $45 for the chance to prove themselves with the College Board’s SAT. A good percentage of those students pay for the College Board’s test prep courses as well. All that testing adds up: The Big Money reports that the nonprofit College Board racked up a surplus of $55 million in 2006, and that its senior staffers earn an average of well over $200,000 a year. Not a bad line of work, if you can test into it. [%comments]


Too bad that high-stakes testing, be it the SAT or any other type, does little to actually improve education.

I wonder how much better our education system would be if we took all the money that was spent on testing and instead devoted it to training and hiring teachers?


Money for the SAT comes from private pockets, not the public coffer.

As much as you can make the case that more money is needed for training and hiring teachers, you can also easily make the case that money has nothing to do with it. Many countries that score better in international testing spend signifigantly lesss than America does per student directly in the classroom.


At least they're profitable and make real profits, not fake ones like Wall Street financial institutions reported for years so their employees could take home millions, not a few hundred thousand.

And at least the SAT, AP, etc. provide genuine service to people. We focus on the tests but AP in particular has driven standards for learning up, which is a benefit to the country.

And finally, would we want people running, writing, defining and reviewing such important material to be paid poorly? Well, by Wall Street standards they are.


I did some development work for CollegeBoard last year. They are in a sweet, sweet place right now.


Isn't the College Board a nonprofit?

Ben Z

I don't know about the College Board's prep classes, but I took Princeton Review's prep class and my score went up 200 points (it wasn't bad at all before I took the class either, and continual re-takes produced the same scores until I finished the prep class). That just makes me question the test, though, if money can produce those results.


I just graduated high school, and I can assure you that AP tests have most certainly not boosted course quality. They do, however, put serious strain on families who are already worried about paying for college: In the past year along, I have spent over $500 on AP tests, and I have taken fewer than many kids my age. Even AP tests that are shortened or should be counted as one combined test, like the Physics C exams or economics, are priced the same as one three-hour test.

Furthermore, if you suspect your test was graded incorrectly, you have to pay the College Board exorbitant fees to have the multiple choice section rescored by hand. I have friends who have gone from 2 to 5 on AP tests, and 560 to 720 on SATs, because the College Board screwed up on scoring them.

And by the way, $55 million surplus means that this money is NOT going to the graders, so scratch the argument that the graders deserve high salaries for their work.

Also, if you're wondering how a nonprofit can charge so much: They send the tests to a for-profit scoring branch. Thus, the CB can charge $40-$950 (for some higher-level tests, I've heard) and not pay taxes on it.



Funny, my roommate just got passed up last week for being transfered to full time due to "Bugetary constraints." The College Board may be rolling in it, but just like the banks, only at the top.

Kevin MN

The College Board offers an exam that is supposed to determine how well you will do in college. However, if you take their course, and pay over a $1000, you can improve your score by a couple of hundred points. In most instances, this would be called a scam, as the test is clearly flawed if a simple course can improve your score that much.

The College Board fortunately has realized that this isn't really about money, it is about class. The majority of people who pay for the course are upper-middle class parents trying to send their kids to the best private schools. Most middle and working class kids can't afford the course or are even unaware of its importance. This causes an unnatural inflation of the well-off kids scores, increasing their chances of being accepted into a better school. Nobody complains because the rich get richer, the College Board gets richer, and the poor stay poor.


Christopher Smith

#7, I think that (unlike high-stakes test generally) the AP tests actually do improve the curriculum in many schools. The tests emphasize the actual skills needed (e.g., clear writing, analysis of literature and logical arguments, solving college-level physics and chemistry problems), and I found that the coursework in my AP classes in fact did teach me those skills.

While no test as such is ever going to be perfect, it seems to me that the AP tests do a fairly good job of lining up incentives (test objectives) with the real-world goals (academic skills).


Wow, surplus of $55 Million dollars! Surpluses occur when the price is not at equilibrium – that is, when the producers are willing to produce (and producing) but the consumers are not so willing to buy them. (as can be seen from the graph --> http://www.csupomona.edu/~mrsafarzadeh/fig12.gif). I am not surprised that the collegeboard is making so much money, via their SATs and APs. I do not like the SATs – from both irrational and rational point of view. As an irrational human being, I do not like it because it's a long boring test that happens on a Saturday morning. As a rational student who took an econ class, who learned how to maximize utility by being efficient, SAT is a negative externality. One, because it does not test students' ability to solve problems, thereby the grades not reflecting their knowledge or quality as a student but rather measuring one's test taking skills; two, students cannot learn from their mistakes as they do not receive score results (corrected essays, m/c) this applies for APs as well; and three, feeding collegeboard, a monopoly, with tremendous amount of money creates a dead-weight-loss, money that “magically” disappears – profit gained by neither the producer and the consumer; four, all the wages/time spent for/on labour, to/by the graders, will be benefited by no one.



#7, you complain now, but your AP classes/testing (depending on the school) can get you out of a lot of unnecessary classes. I had a friend who took so many AP classes that she graduated a year early from college. So, really it's a much better payoff than you think. Maybe the AP tests cost her a thousand or two during high school, but in the end she saved over 40k on tuition.

Eric M. Jones

$55 Million dollars is the cost of ONE fighter plane....and a cheap one at that.

And remember, the teacher's unions are NOT interested in making changes that might improve education. In my opinion (I have been a HS teacher), new approaches in teaching scare the pants off school adminitrators.

Read this guy: http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/


I think AP tests raised the standard at my high school and I learned a lot that prepared me for college, in fact my AP English professor graded and critiqued my writing harder than several of my college professors (to be fair to them, I didn't take any literature courses in college).

As a talent student in regular and honors courses, I wasn't challenged, and never studied, and even finished my homework in the school day. Had I not taken AP's I would not have learned how to study and would have had a hard time adjusting to the college workload.

As far as I know, none of the students at my high school took courses to improve their test scores, I know I didn't, so for $180 (4 tests), I skipped a semester of college.


What we tend to understand for Non Profit is that if there is a surplus, that extra money won´t go to their pockets. With this organization that is probably followed. However, if part of their staff earth salaries equal or more than those in similar forprofit jobs do, for me it is NO a nonprofit anymore. Neither should they fool us with the mislabel, nor governments on getting extra benefits.


#7: In most areas, the schools or the counties pay for the AP exams provided the student performed at a certain academic level in the class. Either way, the cost of a college course, even at a public university, is higher than that of an AP exam.

Exam Whiz

As a student from a non-US country, I do not think American students have it that hard, judging from your content and tested material. The percentage of parents that push their kids hard on exams is much larger here and exams are a much more important part of a student's life in our society.

I don't think that some of the points above are valid. It is unlikely that a person would ignore the AP and SAT and your other tests if it meant a lot for their college just because they came from a poor family. They would find out for themselves. And if it was that important to them, they would find any way to fund their exam and necessary exam prep. People from poorer economic backgrounds in developing countries sacrifice all the time for education, I don't see why citizens in the land of opportunity cannot.

Even if an exam only tests test-taking skills, it also tests perseverance and discipline, traits that may be equally important with brains.




I was referring to testing in general, not just the SAT. In most states, several weeks of instruction are lost each school year to both preparing for and taking standardized tests, and school disctricts spend huge amounts of money administering them that could be better used for other purposes.


ascendingpig: the cash outflow is only starting. How much did you pay to apply to colleges? How much will your tuition be? And say you want to go to grad school... you'll be taking the GRE/MCAT/LSAT/GMAT, all of which cost more than the SAT.

Yeah, education's an expensive business, especially as you move to higher education.


My three children took no prep classes, no SAT, no Princeton reviews, and are now attending University of Chicago (2) and West Point (1).
I did pay, begrudgingly, for AP tests.