Jan 22, 2015

Boycotting the SAT®

There’s really no delicate or politically correct way to put it. Our kids are competing against cheats.  And considering enrollment trends of the past five years suggesting a phenomenal increase in the numbers of international students coming to the U.S. for college, some of the cheats may be winning.

That's not to say cheating doesn't occur in the U.S., because it does.  But what was once a quiet little secret acknowledging the existence of cheating among some students in China and South Korea has slowly bubbled to the surface, thanks to the persistence of Valerie Strauss, of the Washington Post. 

Strauss originally picked up the story of international students who are taking advantage of technology and paying for questions and answers in advance of scheduled SAT exams.  Along with Bob Schaeffer, of FairTest, Strauss gathered increasing evidence that this isn’t a one-time occurrence.  It’s systemic and pervasive.

And the College Board is doing little to nothing about it.

In fact, they already know that there will be cheating on this Saturday’s exam.  

“Earlier this week, FairTest received a link to what purports to be the test form that will be used this Saturday in China and South Korea,” said Schaeffer.  “It appears to be a recycled copy of a June, 2014 SAT given in the U.S.”

But there are lots of hands in this particular pot.  Even College Confidential is being used as a conduit for test questions.  

“We got a recycled test, BTW.  US March 2014,” says one poster. And from this basic information test prep professionals or particularly savvy students build a Google Doc in which they can compile all questions and answers.  All they need to know is when this test will be recycled by the College Board for international test sites.

It so happens that June 2014 may be the test for Asia on Saturday.

But as of this writing, the College Board has neither responded nor cancelled the administration of Saturday’s test.

Note that the cheating doesn’t end there.  Strauss reported last October that testers are paid to take the SAT in the earliest time zone for the international, and using phones, are able to send out copies of the tests with answers and essay already completed.

There’s no reason to believe that the same thing won’t happen on Saturday. And no one seems to be batting an eyelid.

In fact, it seems that there are those within the college admissions industry who actually benefit from the cheating.

Instead of demanding action on the part of the College Board to remove even the smallest hint of corruption, colleges appear to be looking the other way and admitting increasing numbers of students from countries where the cheating takes place.

It seems that the lure of high scores together with the willingness to forgo financial aid and pay full freight makes these students highly sought after.  In fact, colleges are spending huge dollars to send admissions staff across the world to recruit them.

Note that not everyone in China and Korea cheats. And those that don’t are finding the situation increasingly untenable. Bob Schaeffer has received “very moving emails” from high school students in China who are also competing with cheaters.

But the bottom line is that our kids and others are competing for admissions to universities consumed with the competition for ever-higher SAT scores to publish and use in rankings.  High scores and full tuition—what more could the average admissions office want?  Students with character?

So what can be done?  The College Board could use brand new tests for the international market and/or use different tests at different test sites.  Tighter basic security would also seriously compromise efforts to cheat.

Or colleges could simply require the ACT, which so far hasn’t been tainted with large-scale allegations of cheating—here or abroad. 

At least this would make the international cheaters scramble as the ACT isn’t very popular in other countries—maybe because it’s harder to manipulate.

But a message needs to go out to the College Board hopefully supported by the colleges that continue to recruit and admit a large number of students from countries where cheating takes place:  Cheating on the SAT must end and if it isn't brought under control, we will take our business elsewhere.

In other words, until the problem is fixed, students might consider boycotting the SAT® Reasoning Test in favor of the ACT.  Colleges might also consider de-emphasizing the role of the SAT in admissions or maybe even take the plunge and go test-optional.

And with some of the changes the College Board has in mind for next year, this may not be such a bad idea.

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