It’s no secret that test prep professionals like to take the exams they try to coach students to ace, and for many years have signed up to take the SAT and ACT (as well as other admissions exams). But some test prep providers have just received e-mails from the College Board telling them that even though they signed up to take the newly redesigned SAT on March 5, they will not be allowed to do so.

Why? The College Board, which owns the SAT, says that it has instituted a new security measure that is meant to keep anybody from taking the college entrance exam for any purpose other than applying to a college, a financial aid program or any other program that requires a college entrance score.

Meanwhile, the organization that owns the ACT, the leading college admissions exam in the United States, says it doesn’t want test prep providers taking its exam either, and that it instituted a new rule to that end two years ago. It is not clear, however, if any test prep providers have been stopped from taking the ACT since then.

An undetermined number of test prep providers — plus some students over 21 — who had signed up to take the SAT this Saturday said they got an email on Monday from the College Board telling them that they couldn’t. The missive (see text below) tells the providers that their registration has been moved to the May 7 administration.

Sandra Riley, vice president for communications at the College Board, provided the email sent by the College Board, as well as what seems to be conflicting information on the situation in an email. Her email sent late Monday night said:

When we closed registration last week, our analysis of registrants showed an unusually high number of individuals meeting criteria associated with a higher security risk. As a result, we have instituted a new security measure, effective immediately, which aims to ensure that anyone taking the test is doing so for its intended purpose: to apply to and attend a college or university undergraduate program, or to apply for scholarship, financial aid, or other programs that require a college admissions test.
Test takers identified as those likely to be taking the test for other purposes, and who were registered for the March 5 exam, have been transferred to May 7. They will be able to take the test then. May 7 will use a disclosed form, so there is a reduced security risk that test content will be stolen.
We are committed to ensuring that those taking the March test for the intended purpose (described above) and have a deadline that requires them to sit for the March administration, can take the exam and encourage them to call customer service so we can review their request.

On one hand, Riley said that only students who are entering college and or who need an SAT score for some other program can take the test, yet she said that others can apparently take it on May 7th after signing a “disclosed” form. I’ve asked for her to explain further and will add the explanation when I receive it.

The College Board has for years been struggling with major security breaches that have resulted in cheating scandals in the United States and internationally.

Sophisticated and lucrative overseas cheating networks thrive. This has worked in part because, as I’ve reported before, the College Board has in the past used questions on overseas exam forms that already have been given in the United States, and this opens a door to cheating that goes beyond having other people take the test for a student. Whether any previous questions will show up on the redesigned SAT is unknown.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit organization that advocates against the misuse of standardized tests, has found that test-prep companies in Asia have been operating for years in various ways; they send compatriots to the United States to take tests and/or obtain test questions by memorizing them or obtaining them illegally, as well as by monitoring chat boards where students post questions. Furthermore, on SAT days, these firms have people sit for the test at Asian sites in time zones several hours ahead, memorize questions and take a “bathroom break” to call or text questions that can be e-mailed to clients or loaded on calculators students are permitted to use at other test centers.

Scores were withheld after every single SAT administration in the 2014-2015 school year in Asia amid reports of cheating — and some scores from the January test are being withheld as well as investigations into cheating proceed. The same problem has marred SAT administrations overseas for years; for example, the scores from the entire May 2013 administration of the SAT and SAT Subject tests in South Korea were canceled because of a leak of questions.

(Cheating is not just overseas. In 2011, in Nassau County, N.Y., a number of students from a handful of schools were accused of accepting payment or paying others to take the SAT and the ACT college entrance exams. In October 2011, Bernard Kaplan, principal of Great Neck North High School, told a state Senate hearing on the issue that “the procedures ETS uses to give the test are grossly inadequate in terms of security,” according to this New York Times story. College Board and ETS officials say they have improved security since then.)

That is apparently one reason pushing the College Board to try to restrict non-students from taking the SAT, though the organization has relationships with many test providers in the United States and knows they are run by professionals who don’t cheat. Here’s the email sent to an undetermined number of test prep providers and older students:

Dear Test-Taker,
Due to a new test security measure, your registration for the March 5, 2016, administration of the SAT® has been transferred to the administration on May 7, 2016. This change was implemented to ensure that everyone taking the test is doing so for its intended purpose: to apply to and attend a college or university undergraduate program, or to apply for scholarships, financial aid, or other programs that require a college admission test.
If you are taking the SAT for any of the purposes above and you have a deadline that requires you to take the test in March, please call 866-704-0192 (toll free in the U.S.) or +1 703-297-3965 (international), or email by 5 p.m. EST on Wednesday, March 2. Please be prepared to provide information about the program you are applying to along with the deadline. We will review your request and determine if your registration can be reinstated. If you choose not to take the test in May or are already registered for the May test, please call the number above and your March registration fee will be refunded.
The College Board is committed to providing a fair and secure testing environment for all students. We recognize and apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding in this matter.
The SAT Program

A number of test prep providers said they found the College Board’s explanation insufficient, but did not want to be quoted by name. Bob Schaeffer, FairTest’s public education director, said this in an e-mail:

No one can be certain why the College Board is barring test prep professionals from taking the first administration of its “redesigned” SAT this Saturday, but one plausible explanation is that they fear experts will discover flaws in the new exam that regular test-takers might not notice. Given the College Board’s history of screw ups over the past year (June SAT timing/scoring fiasco, Asian test-cheating scandal, PSAT scoring delay, misleading PSAT percentile results, ongoing suspension of electronic SAT reporting, etc.) and the recent surge of schools dropping their SAT test score requirements they have good reason to fear yet another scandal.”

Ed Colby, senior director for media and public relations for the ACT, said his organization instituted a new policy two years ago that limited who could take the ACT “for test security and score validity purposes.” He wrote:

The restriction is one of many test security layers intended to limit the disclosure of ACT’s secure content and ensure a valid testing experience for our examinees. For individuals who provide test prep services, ACT has publically available test preparation offerings and regularly releases secure test content for public use. In terms of specific enforcement of this and other security policies, we can’t comment for test security reasons.

Asked if it was fair to say that the ACT doesn’t want test prep providers taking the ACT, Colby said: “Yes, that would be fair to say.”

He would not say, however, if the ACT has stopped any test prep provider from taking the ACT.