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International counselors blast ACT and College Board, citing ‘lack of confidence’ over testing

Students sit for the SAT at the Poongmun high school in Seoul in 2014. (AFP/Getty Images)

(Update: Adding statement from College Board)

An organization representing nearly 3,000 school counselors working around the globe just issued a scathing statement rebuking the College Board and ACT Inc. for their handling of international administration of the SAT and ACT college admissions exams, citing a “lack of confidence” in the testing giants.

The International Association for College Admission Counseling, with members in 100 countries who work with hundreds of thousands of overseas students and U.S. citizens living abroad, attacked the two organizations for frequently canceling tests in countries at the last moment and then failing to communicate in a timely fashion. The statement (see in full below) also said U.S. students now “have an advantage in the U.S. admissions process” because more test administrations are given every year and overseas students have fewer chances to take the tests.

The College Board, which owns the SAT, and ACT Inc. are nonprofit organizations that earn millions of dollars each year from their testing and other programs; both pay high salaries to top executives. Their overseas testing has faced security problems for years, most commonly in Asia, which prompted cancellations of test administrations or the rescinding of scores.

Ed Colby, spokesman for the ACT, provided a statement that said the organization was “aware” of the statement and “will be communicating directly with them.” It also said, “ACT is committed to providing international students with the opportunity to take the ACT test and remains vigilant in taking all necessary steps to ensure successful standardized administration of the ACT test in the US and around the world.” (You can see the full statement below.) The ACT is now the most popular college admissions test, having overtaken the SAT several years ago.

Zachary Goldberg, spokesman for the College Board, released a statement saying that the organization was in discussions with the counseling association about these issues and that it will for the first time convene an international advisory committee “to inform our international work.” (You can see the full statement below.)

Representatives for both have repeatedly said they cannot discuss the cancellations because it would compromise investigations into the security breaches. After the most recent ACT cancellation in September, Colby made it clear that the company was not confirming that cancellations had occurred specifically in Asia. “I did not confirm anything beyond cancellations at specific international ACT test centers,” he said in an email.

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

The ACT exam for Sept. 9  was canceled in numerous countries two days before it was to be administered because of a security breach. Overseas counselors reported to FairTest, a nonprofit group that advocates against the misuse and abuse of standardized tests, that exams would not be given in places including Taiwan, Macao, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Shanghai. Students posted notes on Reddit about cancellation in Russia, Pakistan, New Zealand, India and Vietnam.

At the same time those tests were being canceled, the ACT website listed affected domestic centers and sites in the Bahamas and Colombia where ACT tests were canceled because of weather, but did not list the ones in Asia.

The association said in its statement (bold face is in the original):

This is an issue of equality and access; International ACAC believes ACT and the  College Board should provide an equal number of test dates for all students, those  residing internationally as well as those residing in the United States.
Lack of Confidence: It has now become a norm to expect test cancellations, and this creates a significant amount of anxiety for students as they undergo the admissions process for the US and other countries that may require standardized testing.
International ACAC believes it is the duty of all testing agencies to ensure they are not reusing large portions of tests and that the testing agencies distribute testing materials securely to bring an end to last-minute test date cancellations.
Communication Concerns: When tests have been canceled, communication from testing agencies has neither been comprehensive nor timely. International ACAC believes it is the duty of the test agencies to communicate with all
International ACAC believes it is the duty of the test agencies to communicate with all relevant parties when a test is canceled, or when there is a change in testing. This includes: students, test site coordinators, high school counselors, and universities.

Bob Schaeffer, education director of FairTest, said in an email that his group has worked for years to push the testing organizations to be more transparent. “There is more government oversight and control over the food you feed your pets than over the tests administered to your children,” he said.

A spokesman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been active for years in investigating nonprofit organizations, did not provide a statement about whether the senator thinks the SAT and the ACT should be more transparent.

A spokesman for the National Council of Nonprofits said he could not respond definitively about how transparent nonprofit organizations are supposed to be about their operations.

SAT security breaches have often resulted from sophisticated overseas cheating networks that thrived, in part, because the College Board used questions on overseas exams that had already been given in the United States. That allowed test-prep companies to send people to the United States to take tests or obtain test questions by memorizing them or obtaining them illegally, and by monitoring chat boards on which students post questions right after taking the tests.

In January 2016, hours before students at sites in China and Macau were scheduled to take the SAT, the College Board canceled the test because of a security breach, and SAT scores have been withheld from some students at virtually every SAT administration in Asia for several years. 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.

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.

Here is the full statement by ACT Inc:

We are aware of the IACAC release and will be communicating directly with them.

ACT is committed to providing international students with the opportunity to take the ACT test and remains vigilant in taking all necessary steps to ensure successful standardized administration of the ACT test in the US and around the world.  Our progress over the past year includes significant strides to ensure decisions are made in the best interest of all stakeholders while working to ensure a level playing field for all students. We have made a number of test security enhancements recently, including more secure shipment processes, more onsite audits, enhanced material inspections and Web monitoring activities, changes in our network of test centers, new data forensics, and improved security education and training. We are also committed to rapidly advancing and maturing our digital ACT testing, which will be launched in all international test centers in September 2018. ACT appreciates the importance of ongoing communication as we continue to pursue a fair and equitable path forward and introduce new solutions for test administration and security.

Here is the full statement by the College Board:

We are actively engaged in discussions with IACAC on this critical issue. We are working towards the same goal of providing international students with testing opportunities while still ensuring the security and integrity of the testing process.
Our actions show our commitment to ensuring the fairness of our exams for students, so that colleges can trust that the scores they receive are valid. We are producing more items and forms than ever in our history; hiring additional full-time staff to focus exclusively on test security; and ensuring that there is sufficient capacity in locations around the world so that students who want to take the SAT can do so within the available administrations.
After we met with IACAC leadership recently at the NACAC conference, we took a closer look at our data for international test takers in order to address some concerns that came up with regard to the impact on students in the graduating class of 2018 as a result of recent test security-enhancing measures. We were pleased to see that the data show international students are taking the SAT at similar rates this year as they have in past years, despite having two fewer administrations available to them. Many international students were wise, planned ahead, and took the SAT before their senior year, allowing themselves multiple opportunities to take the test.
For the first time, we will be convening an International Advisory Committee to inform our international work.  IACAC is represented on the committee, and we hope use that platform to work collaboratively on these and other issues which impact international constituents.

And here is the full statement by the International Association for College Admission Counseling:

(Clarification: That ACT’s Ed Colby refused to confirm cancellations in Asia, saying only that there were some international cancellations.)