Kamilah Campbell knew a score of 900 out of 1600 on the SAT wasn’t good enough to get into her dream college: Florida State University.
To achieve her dream of studying dance at FSU, the Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High student’s mother bought her a prep book the size of a phone book. She studied before school, late at night and with a friend during breaks at the Miami Gardens dance studio where she worked and studied.
But a few weeks after taking a second SAT in October, she received a letter that her scores were flagged. She says a representative from the company that validates the scores told her on the phone that her test was under review because she scored a 1230 — a 330-point jump from her first test in March — and that she likely had “prior knowledge” of the test.
Now Campbell, 18, has the help of a prominent FSU alumnus — attorney Benjamin Crump, famous for representing Trayvon Martin’s family — to help her salvage her chances of getting into her dream school. The deadline for submitting improved scores to FSU for admission was New Year’s Day.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
A determination of an invalid score could also jeopardize her qualifications for a Bright Futures Florida Medallion Scholarship, which would cover 75 percent of tuition and applicable fees at a public Florida university.
“I did not cheat,” Campbell said at a press conference Wednesday. “I studied and focused and achieved my dreams.”
Being told her 330-point improvement was in limbo, “It was like a blowback for me,” she said.
Crump said community members in Miami Gardens and members of FSU Black Alumni reached out to the Tallahassee lawyer to help Campbell on a pro bono basis. He sent a letter to the score validation company demanding that her scores be released or it could constitute a civil rights violation.
“Instead of validating her achievements, they’re assassinating her character,” he said.
Educational Testing Services, which validates the scores from the SAT, sent a letter to Campbell asking her to provide “any information that addresses our concerns.” Campbell sent her own testimony, a photo of the Princeton Review book she studied with, and letters from her language arts teacher and the friend who helped her study.
ETS referred questions to College Board, which administers the college readiness test. In a statement, College Board spokesman Zach Goldberg declined to publicly discuss the specific facts of an individual student’s scores under review but said that test scores are placed under review when “statistical analyses and other factors determine it is necessary.”
“We do not cancel scores based on a score gain alone,” he wrote. “We will only cancel scores after we are confident that there is substantial evidence to do so.”
Florida State University Director of Admissions Hege Ferguson declined to comment on an individual student’s application status but said that in the event a student reaches out regarding delayed test scores, “we will work with the student beyond deadline if necessary.”
Campbell said her guidance counselor recommended that she take her first SAT in March without any prep to establish a baseline. She said she had never taken a practice SAT, known as the PSAT, but did take the SAT as a high-achieving middle school student. She also took the ACT, another college readiness exam, one time and scored a 19.
Campbell couldn’t say when she began studying after the March test, but said she refused to retake the SAT — an option given by College Board with the caveat that she had to score within about six points of her 1230 score from October if College Board determines there is “substantial evidence” to cancel her scores.
“I don’t feel that my score should be invalid,” she said. “I took the test and it passed.”
Miami-Dade County superintendent Alberto Carvalho caught wind of Campbell’s case and contacted College Board higher ups, said school district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego. He said he received assurances that the matter “will be swiftly reviewed.”
“This is a disturbing allegation that could have a troubling impact on one of our students,” Gonzalez-Diego said in a statement. “Although this is a test administered by a private entity, and not M-DCPS, we feel a moral obligation to intervene.”
Bob Schaeffer, the public education director for FairTest, which bills itself as the non-profit monitor of the standardized testing industry, has been in contact with Crump and Campbell regarding her case. He said he reviews cases of students flagged for possibly invalid scores every other week.
Schaeffer said about two million SAT exams are taken every year, and about 2,000 cases are examined internally for large score gains, which contradicts College Board’s statement. He said a 330-point increase is a big jump.
“As we understand it, and the College Board will not confirm it,” he explained, “the system flags scores for review when a student posts gains in excess of 250 points on either part of the SAT or 300 points in total.”
Schaeffer said he reviewed the letter sent to Campbell and said that College Board is likely to conduct an internal analysis to determine if there were any similarities and answer patterns with other students seated near Campbell in the same test center, which was at her school.
Students could cheat with prior knowledge, which is more common among students who test abroad and receive information from the test because of time zones, impersonation or copying or collaboration, the most common case investigated. College Board flags tests with statistical correlations, like selecting the same right and wrong answers.
Schaeffer, however, said the outlook for Campbell is grim. The burden of proof is on her to prove her innocence, he said.
“Most of the ones that are flagged at this level do not get cleared,” he said. “And at this stage, most cases end up with the families giving in. The reason is that they’re dealing with a rich, deep-pocket set of corporations with the best white shoe law firms on retainer and have all the time in the world.”
But, he added, “Most 18-year-olds like Kamilah need their scores right now [in order to] qualify for Bright Futures,” he added. “The difference between a 900 and a 1230 is literally tens of thousands of dollars a year in state scholarship aid.”