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Security breach forces ACT test cancellation in Asia — and weather causes some in U.S.

(Seth Perlman/Associated Press)

A security breach forced the widespread cancellation across Asia of Saturday’s administration of the ACT college admissions exam — the first of the new academic year — while testing has been postponed at numerous sites in U.S. states because of weather issues. The ACT website lists the affected domestic centers as well as in the Bahamas and Colombia, but not the ones in Asia.

Ed Colby, spokesman for ACT Inc., which owns the nation’s most popular college admissions test, confirmed Saturday’s test administration at some international sites had been canceled because of credible evidence test materials had been compromised, but said he could not provide more information because of the ongoing investigation.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit known as FairTest, which advocates against the misuse and abuse of standardized tests, said Chinese test prep companies have reported cancellations in Taiwan, Macao, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Shanghai. Cancellations were also reported in Russia, Pakistan, New Zealand, India and Vietnam, according to student posts on Reddit. The test was canceled and a new date will not be added to the calendar to make up for it, an ACT cancellation message sent to students says; students can sign up for another scheduled administration.

Colby said in an email:

The ACT test administration that had been scheduled for September 9, 2017 has been canceled at specific international ACT test centers due to a verified breach of the test materials. Examinees affected by the canceled administrations have been notified by ACT. Those students will receive instructions on how to reschedule their test. The incident is still under investigation, and ACT cannot comment on what specifically occurred at this time.

Bob Schaeffer, education director for FairTest, said in an email:

This latest, confirmed case of widespread college admissions exam cheating further undermines the credibility of the testing industry. In the face of 21st Century communications technologies, they are simply unable to assure a level playing field for all exam takers around the globe. It is not a surprise that a top box office draw in Asia is the new film “Bad Genius,” which highlights ways to beat test security systems.

Some students in Asia who received cancellation notes posted them on Reddit:

On Reddit, there were posts from someone who claimed to have a copy of Saturday’s ACT test to sell, and from others asking for the test. Yet another poster called on Reddit to remove the post and block the person who had claimed to have the test to preserve “test integrity.”

This is the latest in a series of problems ACT Inc., and the College Board, which owns the SAT, have experienced with some of their test administrations in recent years.

Scores from the writing portion of the Oct. 22, 2016, administration of the ACT were canceled several days after students sat for the exam when security problems were confirmed, and the ACT administration scheduled for June 11, 2016, was canceled in advance in South Korea and Hong Kong for the same reason.

Last year, Reuters reported ACT Inc., after revelations of problems with a different ACT-owned exam, laid off the head of test security and began to audit nearly 200 education centers to try to stem cheating on its tests. On Thursday, Colby said “any ACT staffing changes at that time were the result of organizational realignment to optimize structure and streamline the organization to better serve our customers’ needs.”

Colby said Thursday the “paper test materials are physically shipped to international test centers.”

Security breaches could occur at a number of points in the process, including in test form production and shipping as well as in the receiving process in Asia.

News of the ACT test security breach came as the organization released new scores which revealed big achievement gaps between students with disadvantages and those without, a persistent feature of U.S. public education.

‘We didn’t know it was this bad’: New ACT scores show huge achievement gaps

There have been breaches of security on the SAT for years, a result of sophisticated overseas cheating networks that thrived in part because the College Board has in the past used questions on overseas exam forms that already have been given in the United States. That allowed test-prep companies to send 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 where students post questions right after taking the tests.

FairTest said it has seen no evidence an entire ACT test form used in the United States has been recycled for overseas use, though some questions may be reused, a common practice in the standardized testing industry.

The College Board canceled the administration of the SAT at some sites in China and Macau just hours before students were scheduled to take it in January 2016 because of a security breach. SAT scores have been withheld from some students at virtually every SAT administration in Asia for several years, and 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. In most of the cases, scores were withheld or canceled after students had taken the exam.

College Board: Yes, people cheated on the old SAT, but let’s not talk about that

(Correction: An earlier version said Ed Colby confirmed cancellation of Asia sites. He only confirmed cancellation of international sites.)