ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
It's that time of the year when many high school seniors are making a pretty tough choice, where to go to college. And this year, it's even more stressful for some. The College Board, the company that sponsors the SAT, botched thousands of scores. Why that happened is not entirely clear, neither is the impact on admissions.
But as NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, many students have been put through a ringer.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ reporting:
Last October, nearly half a million college bound students took the SAT. Jake DeLillo, a high school senior in Yorktown Heights, New York, was one of them.
Mr. JAKE DeLILLO (High School Senior, Yorktown Heights, New York): After the test, I thought I did well.
SANCHEZ: When did you find out what your score was?
Mr. DeLILLO: Beginning of November.
SANCHEZ: And what was that score?
Mr. DeLILLO: It was a 1428.
SANCHEZ: That's 1428 out of 2400 on the new SAT, mind you, comparable to a score of about a 1000 on the old SAT, not great. So when Jake, a highly recruited lacrosse player, didn't hear anything from his top choice schools, he knew it was because of his score.
Mr. DeLILLO: They told me, you know, you've got to work a little harder and if you get your test up, your scores up anywhere from 70 to 120 points, we'll reconsider.
Mr. SANCHEZ: That was in November. Four months went by before he learned that the College Board had sent all the colleges on his list the wrong score. His guidance counselor delivered the bad news on a Friday afternoon during class.
Mr. DeLILLO: You know, she, you know, she walked me outside and she's like, College Board made a mistake and, you know, a pretty big mistake, is a 170 points you should have gotten. And she pointed my score, this is what you had and this is what you should have gotten. And I'm just thinking, wow, you know.
SANCHEZ: Wow is not the word Jake's mom, Mary Ellen DeLillo, would have chosen. She was really angry at the College Board for keeping her son in the dark until late March.
Ms. MARY ELLEN DeLILLO (Jake's Mother): I had two people call me directly from the College Board and both of those gentlemen never gave me an explanation as to what exactly had happened.
SANCHEZ: What happened? Humidity happened, says Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board. The scanners used to check the bubble answers on the SAT misread a large batch of answer sheets that had somehow expanded because they were damp.
Mr. GASTON CAPERTON (President, College Board): This is not about the quality of the test. This is not about the fairness of the test. This is a technology glitch that occurred. We're very sorry that happened, and we don't expect it to ever happen again.
SANCHEZ: Caperton has launched an investigation into the cause of the glitch. But let's put the problem in perspective, he says. Fewer than one percent of the half million students who took the SAT last October were affected.
Mr. CAPERTON: I'm concerned if it's only one student that's affected. But I think this thing's been put way out of proportion. People have made it out to be something that it's bigger than it is.
Mr. SANCHEZ: This was big, says Bob Shaffer, head of the watchdog group, Fair Test.
Mr. BOB SHAFFER (Fair Test): It was a huge impact. Remember that this incident erupted at the peak of college admissions decisions, when colleges were just about to mail out the fat and thin envelope. And many had to go back and make changes.
SANCHEZ: Shaffer says Fair Test has been flooded with calls from reporters, students, admissions officers, lawyers and parents looking for lawyers. Now Shaffer wants Congress to investigate.
Mr. SHAFFER: To determine what precisely happened, when, why, how the error was discovered, why it took five months from the date of the test until when people were told.
SANCHEZ: After all, says Shaffer, it was the long delay in informing students and parents that made the problem a lot worse. Plus the fact that the College Board repeatedly put out the wrong information. Today the official story is that over 4,400 students received lower scores than they should have. And about 600 students got higher scores than they deserved.
And now even that mistake poses a legal problem, says Joseph Snodgrass, an attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota. He's filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of students who got correct scores, but had to compete for scholarships and admissions to selective schools with students who got higher scores than they should have.
Mr. JOSEPH SNODGRASS (Plaintiff attorney): So we're going to be asking the court to force the College Board to correct those scores because anybody that took the SAT and that is applying for colleges is being forced to compete with folks with these inflated scores.
SANCHEZ: If people want to sue, that's their right, says College Board President Gaston Caperton.
Mr. CAPERTON: But I think when all the smoke clears, as bad as it is when you have a technology glitch, this is something that shouldn't occur again and we'll do everything we can to be sure it doesn't.
Mr. SANCHEZ: That's no consolation, says Jake DeLillo, not after what he's gone through.
Mr. DeLILLO: You know, once it hit me, I just realized, you know, what if this never happened? Where, you know, where I would have ended up. I don't know.
Ms. DeLILLO: That I think is probably the heartbreaker for me.
Mr. SANCHEZ: Mary Ellen DeLillo, Jake's mom.
Ms. DeLILLO: We got a phone call from U Penn, they said, yes, we would have loved to have Jake. And he says, Ma, that's the way the cookie crumbles, but there'll always be in the back of my mind the what if -- what if the scores had been correct?
SANCHEZ: In the fall Jake plans to attend New York Tech, one of his backup schools where he plans to major in business or behavioral science and play on the school's lacrosse team. The DeLillo family hasn't decided if it's going to sue on its own or join any future lawsuits against the College Board. But the New York State Senate Higher Education Committee has asked Jake to testify at a hearing next month. It's considering more government regulations to protect test takers from the next glitch.
Claudio Sanchez, NPR news.