Kids in Asia have an unfair advantage on the SAT. New security won’t help, critics say

The College Board has reported multiple widespread issues of answers to SAT questions leaking to test prep courses in certain Asian countries, which then provide the answers to students.
The College Board has reported multiple widespread issues of answers to SAT questions leaking to test prep courses in certain Asian countries, which then provide the answers to students.

When most people think of cheating on a college entrance exam, such as the SAT, they picture someone copying off a partner or possibly even hiring someone to take the test for them. But the most widespread cheating on the SAT isn’t conducted by a bunch of random students – it’s an industry in certain Asian countries.

The College Board, the owner of the SAT, announced new security measures to try to stem that cheating on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. College Board officials called them “the most robust and direct actions taken by a college entrance exam provider.”

Critics disagree, saying the new measures won’t actually solve the problem.

The changes include reducing the number of questions that are reused and the number of times the SAT is administered overseas every year as well as providing law enforcement and government agencies the names of people and firms believed to be engaging in cheating.

In some Asian countries such as China, there are SAT prep courses that have a huge advantage over their U.S. counterparts. They hand out booklets that essentially serve as answer keys, according to an investigation by Reuters in 2016. They reveal the correct responses to multiple-choice questions that had appeared on past SATs – which would then appear on the official exam they take.

In February 2016, Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. announced new guidance to help states eliminate low-quality, redundant or unhelpful testing. "Good assessment is about balance. I've seen that as both a teacher and a principal,

Xingyuan Ding, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles from China, told Reuters he already knew the answers to about half of the questions in the critical reading section of the SAT when he took the test in Hong Kong in December 2013. He got a perfect score on that section.

The Reuters investigation identified eight occasions since late 2013 in which test material was circulating online before the SAT was administered overseas. The most recent case occurred last month.

Critics say the new security measures will not cut out cases such as Ding’s. Reducing the number of reused questions isn’t enough – it has to stop altogether.

“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,” Bob Schaeffer, education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, told the Washington Post. “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.”

Additionally, the College Board said it now planned to bar students from taking any of their tests if they have been caught cheating on an exam. That will also apply to cheaters stateside, such as the Long Island SAT cheating scandal discovered in 2011.

Samuel Eshaghoff pleaded guilty in late 2011 to taking the SAT for at least 16 other students, who would pay him up to $2,500 each to do so. In a 60 Minutes investigation, Kurt Landgraf, the president of the Educational Testing Service, which administers the test for the College Board and is responsible for SAT test security, said they caught about 150 impersonators in 2011.

The colleges those 16 students went to were never notified of the students’ hiring of Eshaghoff, according to 60 Minutes, because it is ETS policy not to tell schools about suspected or confirmed cheating. The new rules would prevent them from taking the SAT again, which could hinder their chances of getting into colleges.

Landgraf told 60 Minutes that his organization spends about $11 million on security every year.