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College Board Plans to Increase Security on Admission Test

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The group responsible for a widely used college admissions test cancelled scores for a number of students who took the test in January.

Those students took the international SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The group announced it is studying the scores of other students who took the January test.

The non-profit College Board, which develops the SAT, said on Wednesday it is taking steps to try to reduce cheating on the admissions test.

Results from the SAT and Advanced Placement, or AP, exams can help or hurt students interested in attending an American college or university.

Reducing test dates to prevent cheating

The College Board said there will only be four dates on which students can take the SAT during the 2017-2018 school year and the following school year. There are usually six test dates each year.

The international SAT test date in June 2017 has been canceled. The coming year's test dates will be in October and December 2017, and in March and May of 2018.

Fewer test dates mean SAT questions are less likely to be stolen. That is because the College Board often re-used questions from one test to another in the past.

Re-Using SAT questions increases cheating

SAT exams with new questions are first given in the United States. After that, the exams are sent to test centers in other countries. Students in some areas can buy the questions from test-preparation companies before they take the test.

It takes a long time for the College Board’s members to write and agree on questions for the test. So, it is not surprising that an SAT exam would include some questions from earlier exams.

The College Board announced steps to prevent people who have cheated in the past from taking the test again. The group is also informing law enforcement about the groups and individuals it thinks are taking the test’s content illegally. It is asking test center administrators and test-takers themselves to report cases of cheating anonymously.

Peter Schwartz is the College Board's chief administrative officer and general counsel. He said in a written statement that his organization is doing all it can to protect the exam questions.

"We are unwavering in our commitment to SAT test security and we will continue to confront any efforts to undermine it."

However, critics say the custom of repeating questions from one test to another makes it possible for students to share information after they take the test.

Bob Schaeffer is the public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. He says the College Board did not promise to stop re-using test questions.

"The most important thing is what they did not say. They did not say they're going to stop recycling tests, which is the primary tool used in all these international cheating scandals."

Schaeffer went on to say that communication through social media makes it impossible to stop people from sharing the test questions after they have taken a test.

"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."

Zachary Goldberg works for the College Board. He noted, "We are reducing re-use, it's in the announcement. We recognize that's an issue."

The announcement said that "the College Board has increased test form development to reduce reuse."

Test writers working at the Educational Testing Service are responsible for the SAT, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, and the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE. These tests have all been involved in cases of cheating that were reported in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Criminal cases of test cheating

In January 2016, the College Board cancelled test dates at 45 test centers in China and Macau. The cancellation came after the College Board found that students may have received copies of the tests in advance.

A group of 15 Chinese faced federal charges in 2015. Those charges were related to sending fake passports for people to take the SAT and other college entrance exams in Pennsylvania. They had been cheating since 2011.

Chinese students had paid up to $6,000 to have someone else take college admission tests for them. Most of the 13 people who were found guilty of the cheating have been returned to China.

Restoring trust in the tests

The Reuters news service reported that the College Board knew that some parts of the tests they gave overseas last year were not secure.

Steve Syverson is an administrator at the University of Washington, Bothell. He formerly served on the National Association for College Admission Counseling. He told Reuters that the College Board will need to find a way to return to the time when test scores could be trusted.

“The College Board does a lot of good things, but it will clearly be a major challenge for them to restore trust in the integrity of the test.”

I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English based on reports from the Associated Press and Reuters. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

recycle - v. to use (something) again

challenge - n. a difficult task or problem

content n. something contained; the issues treated in a written work

anonymouslyadj. of or related to an unnamed individual

score – n. result; the number of points that someone gets for correct answers

unwaveringadj. continuing in a strong way

commitmentn. an agreement or promise to do something

confront – v. to face something difficult

fakeadj. a worthless copy of something

scandal – n. damage to image; an apparent moral or ethical violation

Now it’s your turn. Do students in your country take high-stakes tests like the SAT? What do you think of the charges that many students cheat on SAT tests?

Free practice materials for the SAT test are now available on the Khan Academy website