GRE Shift to Computer-Only Administration May Stall

University Testing

According to the Educational Testing Service (ETS), Saturday, April 10 marked the last pencil- and-paper administration of its Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in the United States. In the future, the GRE is to be offered only at for-profit Sylvan Learning Systems centers, in which ETS holds an ownership share (see Examiner, Winter 1997-98). Already, the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is available only on computer. However, the change in the GRE may not come to pass if either of two assessment reform initiatives reach fruition.


Like many others who have taken the computer-adaptive GRE, Amy Cuddy, a Massachusetts student applying to graduate schools in psychology, was surprised at her low scores, particularly on the Analytic section of the exam. Rather than simply retake the computerized test, Ms. Cuddy registered for the pencil-and-paper exam administered just one month later. According to ETS, her scores soared by 300 points on the Analytic section (moving her from the 8th to the 84th percentile nationally) and by 100 points on Quantitative.


Convinced that there is something wrong with ETS' new exam, Ms. Cuddy has filed a formal "30-day notice" letter to ETS warning that she will sue for "unfair and deceptive acts" if her computerized GRE score is not canceled and her test-taking expenses reimbursed. She charges that ETS has made "false representations that these tests are appropriately designed, appropriately tested, appropriately administered and appropriately scored." For example, the official GRE Information Bulletin claims "A computer-adaptive test . . . provides precise information about your abilities . . ."


Though Ms. Cuddy was accepted at all the graduate programs to which she applied, she intends to continue pursuing legal action against ETS on behalf of all students whose "abilities" may be mischaracterized by the test. Under Massachusetts' strong consumer protection statute, ETS can be held liable for three times the actual damages sustained, litigation costs, and attorneys fees.



NY Legislation

Meanwhile, in New York, State Senator Kenneth LaValle is attempting to move legislation that would require ETS to continue giving students the option of taking the exam in the traditional format. LaValle, the father of New York's landmark Truth-in-Testing law, which requires most university admissions tests to be made public after they have been administered, may be aided by several minority legislators who are concerned with potential disparate impacts from computer administration (see Examiner, Summer 1997). Historically, ETS has extended provisions required by New York law to test takers around the nation.


ETS has already been forced to pull back from a planned worldwide conversion to the new format for the GRE as well as its Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) because many prospective test-takers in sub-Saharan Africa have difficulty gaining access to the computerized exam. Even after converting to computer-only administration in the U.S., a pencil-and-paper GMAT has remained available in some overseas locations. The lack of global consistency in the options offered test takers may also help stimulate reforms, particularly if actions by Amy Cuddy and others like her can clearly demonstrate that the two formats do not necessarily produce similar results.