The College Board, owner of the SAT, is taking new security measures to try to stem cheating in the United States and abroad, calling them “the most robust and direct actions taken by a college entrance exam provider.” But critics say the action isn’t enough to stop cheaters, especially those overseas, where security problems have been ongoing for years.
Among the new measures are: providing law enforcement and governmental agencies in the United States and abroad the names of people and firms believed to be engaged in cheating; reducing the number of times the test is given overseas each year; and reducing the number of questions that are reused on different tests.
Cheating on the SAT is nothing new. Sometimes it occurs in the United States, though more often it happens overseas, where some scores are withheld on every test administration because of suspected security breaches. Cheating has flourished through a sophisticated system employed by test prep companies and others and made possible in large part by the fact that the College Board reuses questions in Asia that have been used in the United States.
Test-prep companies in Asia have sent people 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 — including the website College Confidential — where students post questions. These firms also 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 emailed to clients or loaded on calculators students are permitted to use at other test centers.
In fact, in its Feb. 21 announcement about the security changes, the College Board admitted that “a number of students” who took the January 2017 international SAT administration had their scores canceled, while the scores of other students are being investigated. The announcement also said in part:
The new measures, which will be implemented in close partnership with the College Board’s members, constitute the most robust and direct actions taken by a college entrance exam provider against test takers seeking an unfair advantage on the test and companies and actors who assist them for their own profit or benefit. While the growing influence of organizations that steal and sell test content to students has been concentrated in a few international locations in recent years, the solutions to preserve the integrity of SAT scores must be implemented globally.With the introduction of the new SAT last year, the College Board has increased test form development to reduce reuse, strengthened prevention and detection techniques, and bolstered efforts to identify and pursue those sharing copyright-protected test content.
Bob Schaeffer, education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit that works to eliminate the misuse and abuse of standardized tests, said the College Board’s actions don’t go far enough to solve the cheating problem. He wrote in an email:
It is not sufficient to “reduce reuse,” which is as far as the College Board statement goes, no matter how much additional security is put in place. With instantaneous global communication via Facebook, Snapchat, private messaging and dark websites, there is no way to prevent test questions from being circulated once they have been administered. The only way to stop unethical test-prep companies and individuals from gaining advance knowledge of upcoming test items is to stop reusing test questions.
Here is the complete Feb. 21 College Board announcement, which I am publishing with permission:
The College Board today announced a comprehensive set of policies to further strengthen efforts to enhance the security of the SAT, continue to ensure the integrity of scores delivered to colleges and universities, and protect the honest students who make up the vast majority of test takers.The new measures, which will be implemented in close partnership with the College Board’s members, constitute the most robust and direct actions taken by a college entrance exam provider against test takers seeking an unfair advantage on the test and companies and actors who assist them for their own profit or benefit. While the growing influence of organizations that steal and sell test content to students has been concentrated in a few international locations in recent years, the solutions to preserve the integrity of SAT scores must be implemented globally.With the introduction of the new SAT last year, the College Board has increased test form development to reduce reuse, strengthened prevention and detection techniques, and bolstered efforts to identify and pursue those sharing copyright-protected test content.“We are unwavering in our commitment to SAT test security and we will continue to confront any efforts to undermine it, including the unauthorized disclosure of test questions and test forms,” said Peter Schwartz, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel at the College Board. “There are three fundamental ways we protect the value of the SAT for test takers and score recipients: increasing the pool of test items, increasing security and deterrence, and limiting exposure of test materials by reducing the number of administrations. In all of our efforts, we’ve worked to strike a balance between thwarting those seeking an unfair advantage and providing testing opportunities for the vast majority of students who play by the rules.”New measures announced today further increase security and preserve the integrity of SAT scores. They include:*Reducing the international testing dates for the SAT to four for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, with administrations in October, December, March, and May. Recognizing that international students use both the SAT and SAT Subject Tests to build competitive applications, SAT Subject Tests will be available in October, November, December, May, and June.*Canceling the June 2017 international SAT administration, as part of the change to the international test administration schedule. SAT Subject Tests will be available during the June 2017 administration.*Providing the names of test prep companies and individuals we suspect of stealing and receiving secure test content to law enforcement and other government agencies in the U.S. and abroad.*Prohibiting individuals from taking the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and Advanced Placement Exams when we conclude they have gained or attempted to gain or share an unfair advantage on any College Board test.*Exploring with both colleges and high schools effective ways to share with them — consistent with applicable laws and contractual obligations — whether their applicants or attending students, respectively, have gained or attempted to gain or share an unfair advantage on any College Board test.*Increasing test center audits worldwide.*Making it easier for students and educators to confidentially and anonymously report suspected cheating.*Expanding the College Board’s criteria for barring registrants who are taking the SAT for other than one of its intended purposes.“With these new policies, the College Board is committed to expose and thwart individuals and organizations who attempt to steal and share test materials for profit or other gain,” said Jeremiah Quinlan, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University. “My colleagues and I will continue to seek further means to protect the integrity of test administrations so that honest test-takers throughout the world can freely pursue their educational aspirations.”“The College Board has been very mindful of the dual obligations to both confront bad actors and to ensure that students who play by the rules can pursue their lifelong dreams,” said Zina L. Evans, Vice President for Enrollment Management at the University of Florida. “This firm stance sends a clear signal that individuals or organizations attempting to steal and share test materials for their own profit and benefit will not be tolerated.”“The College Board is taking new, bold action at the urging of our Board of Trustees and in consultation with colleagues in higher education,” said James Montoya, Chief of Membership, Governance, and Global Higher Education at the College Board. “We will continue to consult with educators and will take great care in implementing these actions.”The policies will be enacted for future administrations. The College Board will provide more details to test takers and educators later this spring.Following a comprehensive investigation and statistical analysis, the College Board also informed a number of students who sat for the January international SAT administration that their scores are being canceled. The scores for an additional set of students are being reviewed as part of ongoing comprehensive investigations. These actions are part of the standard process of ensuring the integrity of each SAT administration.The new policies announced today build on enhanced security measures the College Board has implemented over the past few years, including:*Increased security of test materials before and during an exam administration, including delivery and storage procedures, rules for access, and the implementation of secure lockboxes.*Comprehensive test-day administration protocols including sign-in and photo ID requirements, limiting testing room access, protocols for seating, and procedures for monitoring examinee behavior.*Rigorous and innovative statistical analyses to identify invalid scores.“The College Board’s latest innovative approach to address attempts to gain an unfair advantage will help in reflecting students’ real academic standing and achievements when considering their application,” said Cesar Wazen, Director of Scholarships & Partnerships Office, Qatar University. “We thank College Board leadership for standing up for colleges, aspiring students, and their families around the world.”