College admissions offices scrambled Wednesday to reconsider applications after learning they had received incorrect SAT scores for about 4,000 students who took the exam last October.

Some in the field criticized the College Board, owner of the exam, for failing to disclose the problem until so late in the admissions season.

College officials said they expected few admissions decisions would be changed, but they were taking a second look at applicants whose scores were reported incorrectly. Generally, SAT scores are only one factor schools consider, but they can be critical in admissions to particular programs or eligibility for merit-based scholarships.

The College Board told colleges about the error Tuesday and said affected students would get word by today.

At the very least, the error was a major headache in admissions offices, who thought they were through the busiest part of the year. At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, admissions director Kevin Kelly had finished printing and started mailing more than 12,000 decision letters when he opened his own mail to find a 13-page roster of students whose scores had been reported incorrectly.

“On March 7, to get this packet of information is a little startling,” Kelly said. “Most of my immediate reaction is not printable.”

The affected students appear to be clustered in the Northeast. At the University of Vermont, 107 applicants’ scores were affected, though most by just a few points, dean of admissions Don Honeman said. By Wednesday afternoon, Honeman said his staff had already reconsidered them all. One student who had been denied was admitted, and three others were bumped to a higher scholarship level.

Colleges in other regions seemed less affected. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill had 71 affected applications, the University of California, Berkeley had 32 and the University of Georgia four. Earlham College in Indiana had five, but all had already been admitted.

The College Board said differences were less than 100 points, out of a total possible score of 2,400, for the vast majority of affected students.

Several college officials credited the College Board for its thorough response – three entire sittings of the exam were rescored – but others said they should have been notified sooner, and some were sharply critical of how the news was conveyed.

“As the party who screwed up you have a responsibility to fess up to the problem and provide a clear explanation,” Dennis Trotter, dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, wrote in a letter to a College Board official.

Critics of the SAT called the error the latest in a long line of shortcomings by the nonprofit College Board.

“The larger issue here is that the nation has put its trust in an unaccountable testing industry,” said Robert Schaeffer of the group Fairtest, adding the error might never have come to light had a student not asked for a rescoring. “It’s yet another one of those cases in which the testing industry’s screw-up could significantly harm people’s education and their lives.”

College Board spokeswoman Jennifer Topiel said the organizations notified admissions officials “as soon as we possibly could.” Affected students will get refunds, and a handful of incorrect scores that actually should have been lower will not be changed.

But several people, including Trotter and Brad MacGowan, guidance counselor at Newton North High School in suburban Boston, questioned the decision to let inaccurately high scores stand, wondering if those students would now unfairly displace others.

“Are these scores important, or aren’t they?” MacGowan said.



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