(Update: College Board says it is aware of reports of possible cheating on Jan. 24 SAT in Asia)
About half a dozen counselors and students in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia have said that some test prep companies have learned about test items that will be on exam and have provided them to their clients. At least one said he wrote to the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT for the College Board, warning them of the issue. Tom Ewing, director of external affairs at the Educational Testing Service, wrote in an e-mail:
Yes, we are aware of reports regarding the January international SAT administration, and if need be will take appropriate action based on our investigations. We remain deeply focused on stopping illegal activity and are working with our partners at the College Board and globally to provide a fair testing environment for all students.
The College Board and the ETS won’t provide details about security breaches, though in late December it used perhaps its strongest language in an online statement that said in part (and you can see the entire statement below):
Over the past three months, organizations and individuals have illegally obtained and shared test materials for their own profit, to the ultimate detriment of students. We strongly denounce these organizations and are working hard to hold them accountable for their actions.Earlier this month, we received reports of test security violations during the December international administration of the SAT. As was required for the October and November international administrations, the release of December SAT scores for some students is delayed while we conduct an administrative review. We appreciate that score delays are frustrating to students and institutions. Our responsibility is to deliver valid scores, even when doing so takes extra time. This is consistent with the overwhelming feedback we continue to receive from our member colleges and universities.
There are various ways that cheating is believed to take place overseas on the SAT, most or all of it apparently stemming from the College Board’s use of SAT exams in other countries that have already been given in the United States. According to Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the nonprofit National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest, this is how cheating occurs, taken from reports by counselors and people who work in test prep companies in China and South Korea:
— Test prep companies have employees or partners in the United States obtain recently administered SAT exams, including those that are officially “undisclosed,” either by copying illegally obtained test forms or compiling content from information about individual items shared on chat boards such as collegeconfidential.com. Some even take the tests themselves.— Test prep firms overseas maintain complete databases of questions and correct answers from previously administered tests. They use these to train their regular clients (also illegal if they use questions that have not been disclosed). Such test-prep “services” are heavily advertised on Chinese language websites such as Taobao, QQ and Wechat.— On SAT day, the firms have people sit for the test at Asian sites in time zones several hours ahead of China (e.g. Auckland, New Zealand is five hours ahead of Beijing), memorize the first few items, then take a “bathroom break,” from which they call or text that information to their superiors. The firms consult their database and identify the test being administered in China later that day.— A list of correct answers is then transmitted to paying clients by simple technologies, such as emailing the file to their cell phones or loading it on programmable calculators that students are allowed to use in the test center.
The issue of cheating on the SAT in Asia is years-old; in fact, the College Board canceled the May 2013 administration of the SAT and SAT Subject tests in South Korea because of a leak of questions. But the College Board has repeatedly refused to release specific information about cheating, including the number of scores that have been withheld and then invalidated because of confirmed cheating. Nor will it talk about specific actions it is taking to stop students in Asia from cheating.
And now, ACT, Inc., when asked whether overseas tests had been compromised, also has refused to answer questions. Ed Colby, director of public relations for ACT, wrote in an e-mail:
For security reasons, ACT cannot comment on any specific test security investigations. However, I can tell you that ACT has multiple layers of test security procedures in place to deter and detect cheating attempts on The ACT, wherever it is taken. We have a hotline that is available to anyone who wishes to report test security concerns. It can be found online at http://www.act.ethicspoint.com. All reports of testing irregularities received through the hotline are investigated by ACT. We encourage anyone with information concerning test form compromises to contact ACT immediately.ACT is constantly refreshing its test forms and questions. We don’t share specifics on test form usage for security reasons. [And] ACT does not release data on the volume of test-takers outside the U.S. We have test centers in more than 150 countries around the world, although not all are active on any particular test date. You can see the list of countries (in a drop down menu) on our website: http://www.actstudent.org/regist/outside/.
Here’s the full College Board statement on SAT cheating overseas that it issued in late December:
Information Regarding International SAT® AdministrationsThe College Board and its global test administration and security provider, Educational Testing Service (ETS), are committed to ensuring that all students have access to a fair testing environment and that colleges and universities receive valid SAT® scores.Over the past three months, organizations and individuals have illegally obtained and shared test materials for their own profit, to the ultimate detriment of students. We strongly denounce these organizations and are working hard to hold them accountable for their actions.Earlier this month, we received reports of test security violations during the December international administration of the SAT. As was required for the October and November international administrations, the release of December SAT scores for some students is delayed while we conduct an administrative review. We appreciate that score delays are frustrating to students and institutions. Our responsibility is to deliver valid scores, even when doing so takes extra time. This is consistent with the overwhelming feedback we continue to receive from our member colleges and universities.It is important to note that though administrative reviews may require an initial broad hold on scores, they should not reflect upon the integrity of any individual student. We have now released the majority of the scores that were held for review following the October and November international administrations. ETS has informed these students that their scores are available online through their My SAT Organizer. Test-takers whose scores are still under review will receive updated information from ETS in the coming weeks. Students and parents may contact SAT Customer Service at +1 (212) 713-7789 or email@example.com with questions.We have made great strides in improving our test security measures. We have added on-site investigations, increased the ways in which we verify a test-taker’s identity, reduced the number of administrations available in certain areas, enhanced on-site security measures in some test centers, and closed others entirely. We continue to work to disrupt attempts to illegally obtain and share test content. Following each administration, we reevaluate security measures based on what has been reported, what we have learned, and the input of our higher education advisory groups.Contact InformationThe College Board and Educational Testing Service encourage anyone with knowledge of any dishonest behavior with respect to the SAT to contact the Office of Testing Integrity. Reports can be made confidentially at +1 609-406-5430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Students and parents may contact SAT Customer Service at +1 212-713-7789 or email@example.com with questions.K–12 educators and higher education admission staff may contact the SAT Program by calling +1 888-728-4357 (U.S. only) or +1 212-520-8600 (internationally) with questions. Professional staff may also reach the College Board via this email inquiry form.