Scores of students in Asia are complaining to the College Board and the Educational Testing Service that their scores on the SAT administered in December, which were withheld as part of an investigation into a cheating scandal, have not been released, even as U.S. college admissions deadlines are fast approaching.
The College Board withheld some scores of students who took the SAT in Asia in October, and then again in November and December, because of concerns of cheating. In January, the College Board said it was aware that the exam forms being given on Jan. 24 may have been compromised. As it turned out, well over a week before the SAT was given to students in Asia on that date, some if not all of the questions on two versions of the exam given that day were posted online. What’s more, a week before the exam, a U.S. nonprofit organization known as FairTest received a PDF of one of the SAT test forms. (You can read more about that here.)
Now, students with scores that have not yet been released sent a letter about their delayed December scores to the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT for the College Board. Asked about the letter, Tom Ewing, director of external affairs at the Educational Testing Service, wrote in an e-mail:
We have received the letter and appreciate the concern and frustration expressed by these students and parents. For reasons of privacy, it is our practice to communicate directly with students regarding all aspects of their SAT experience from registration through score reporting, and we have been in communication with affected students. We offered to provide them with a letter of explanation they can send to universities explaining that the delay is through no fault of their own.
That statement raises a lot more questions than it answers. If, for example, the ETS has determined that these scores have been withheld “through no fault” of the students who took it, does that mean they have already been cleared in the investigation? And if so, why haven’t the scores been released?
The College Board and the ETS are known to use tests overseas that have already been given in North America. This practice has opened a window for a system of cheating that has plagued the SAT internationally for years. I’ve published this before, but here again is how part of the cheating occurs:
- 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 Web sites 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 cellphones or loading it on programmable calculators that students are allowed to use in the test center.
Many Chinese students have to travel outside mainland China to take the SAT. Zach Goldberg, the director of external communications for the College Board, said in an e-mail:
Per guidelines set forth by China’s Ministry of Education (MOE), the SAT is currently only administered within schools authorized by the Ministry of Education to offer international admissions tests to their enrolled students. These are primarily international schools that typically enroll students who hold passports from countries outside of the People’s Republic of China. Chinese national students who do not attend one of these schools and are interested in taking the SAT are welcome to take it in SAT testing centers in Hong Kong, Macao or any other country outside of mainland China.
There are cheating concerns outside China and South Korea as well. Last October, when it became known that some scores from that month’s administration of the exam overseas, Fiona Rees, president of the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling, wrote in an e-mail to a Post reporter that she learned of “several cases where our members (not in China or Korea) found significant instances of student fraud — including a student with entire pages of the SAT scanned on the phone.” She added: “The student had the entire test with answers and essay already completed.”
Here’s the letter from the Chinese students: