In response to the standardized-test cheating scandal on New York’s Long Island — which began with arrests related to the SAT, and has since come to encompass the ACT, too — I initiated an e-mail exchange last week with Ray Nicosia of the Educational Testing Service. Mr. Nicosia is director of testing integrity for E.T.S., which administers the SAT. What follows are edited excerpts from our electronic conversation. (At the end of this post, readers will find contact information for Mr. Nicosia’s office as well as a short cut to post comments on this blog in response to his remarks.)
Can you walk readers, briefly, through the various safeguards that E.T.S. and the College Board have in place to insure that those who take SAT exams are, in fact, the very people who have registered to take those exams?
SAT security measures begin long before test day. From the secure printing and shipping of test materials to the nearly 7,000 SAT test centers located in more than 170 countries — to the comprehensive post-test analysis of answer sheets — E.T.S. and the College Board work year-round to ensure the integrity of the testing process.
Because SAT scores are reviewed as part of a student’s application to college, everyone who takes the SAT or uses SAT score reports in the admissions process has a vested interest in maintaining the integrity of SAT scores. This is why we encourage anyone with direct knowledge of dishonest behavior or anyone who suspects dishonest behavior to inform the E.T.S. Office of Testing Integrity so we can investigate.
For instance, our test center staff members – who are themselves educators – are trained to turn away students with questionable IDs and to observe test takers for signs of dishonest behavior. Test center supervisors submit exception reports detailing unusual test day occurrences or dishonest student behavior, and these reports often form the basis for an investigation by my office. We also investigate allegations of dishonest behavior reported by other students, parents or school officials.
During the 2010-11 academic year, the office conducted about 9,600 investigations of SAT testing irregularities, including fire alarms going off during testing and reports of test taker impersonation.
On test day, test takers must present their admission ticket as well as an acceptable form of photo ID. The name on the admission ticket must match exactly the name on the ID, and the ID must include a recent, recognizable photo. Test center staff members are authorized to refuse admission to any test taker with invalid or questionable ID. A list of acceptable forms of ID is available on the SAT Web site.
The College Board, which owns the SAT, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to access and equity in higher education, and the ID requirements currently in place were developed to help protect the integrity of the testing process while not discouraging disadvantaged students from taking the SAT. Nearly 20 percent of SAT takers already use fee waivers to take the exam, and we need to be careful that any additional ID requirements we implement do not create an undue financial barrier for such students.
As the case in Nassau County illustrates, some students will attempt to cheat the system by employing impersonators. In those cases, we can employ a number of after-the-fact detection methods, including handwriting and statistical analysis, to identify invalid scores. We also rely on score recipients – including college admission officers and high school administrators – to alert us when a student’s scores are out of sync with the rest of his or her academic record.
What additional checks, if any, have been added since the arrests on Long Island were announced earlier this fall?
Following the arrests in Nassau County, E.T.S. implemented enhanced training for test center supervisors and also implemented additional post-test analytics to identify score anomalies. The College Board president, Gaston Caperton, also announced that the College Board had retained Freeh Group International Solutions to conduct a thorough review of SAT security policies and procedures. As previously stated, E.T.S. and the College Board believe that even one such case of test taker impersonation is too many, and we will work with the Freeh Group to implement further enhancements to ensure the integrity of the SAT.
Bernard Kaplan, the principal of Great Neck North High School, told my Times colleagues last month that he believed that cheating on the SAT was pervasive. “I think it’s widespread across the country,” he said. “We were the school that stood up to it.” To what extend have the arrests on Long Island — 20 at last count, including one involving a man charged with taking a test for a girl — suggested a potentially broader weakness in the efforts by E.T.S. and College Board to detect fraud on its own? And how can you be confident that such problems are not more widespread, both in New York and nationally?
A recent survey found that 59 percent of high school students reported cheating on a test in the last year, and one in three admitted using the Internet to plagiarize an assignment. We find such behavior appalling.
While recent events may have raised public awareness of security in standardized testing, E.T.S. works to address security challenges each and every day. No system is perfect, but that does not mean we don’t take this very seriously.
E.T.S. invests millions of dollars in security protocols designed to ensure that students test fairly and that student misbehavior is kept in check. In addition to these protocols, we rely on our partners in the schools to help uncover additional testing improprieties. It is common for school officials and guidance counselors to contact us with their suspicions about cheating. By having access to high school transcripts and SAT scores, school officials have more information about possible discrepancies in a student’s overall academic performance than does E.T.S.
In addition, school officials sometimes hear rumors or receive tips from students, and – as happened at Great Neck North – report those allegations to the E.T.S. Office of Testing Integrity. Every report we receive is investigated and many of these investigations lead to canceled scores.
We have never suggested that testing improprieties are limited to Nassau County or Great Neck. Each year, E.T.S. cancels thousands of scores when we have any reason to believe copying, impersonation or other rule violations has occurred. We turned hundreds of students away last year for questionable IDs. We also analyze SAT score data for each administration and compare those scores to prior years to determine if there have been any spikes in the higher score ranges that might suggest cheating. As scores have been flat or declining for a decade, that does not appear to be the case.
As for allegations that a male impersonator tested for a female student: in this instance, the female student had a gender-neutral first name. That fact, along with a sophisticated fake ID, enabled the male impersonator to take the test on her behalf.
E.T.S. and the College Board have been implementing enhancements to SAT security, some of which we already have discussed and others that will not be made public to ensure their effectiveness. We are confident that such further enhancements will address issues highlighted by this case.
In the vein of “If you see something, say something,” how, specifically, can students, educators and even parents report any suspicions of impropriety on an administration of the SAT?
Students, parents and educators have a number of options available for reporting testing irregularities, unusual behavior or suspicions of cheating. The most direct way to make such a report is to contact the E.T.S. Office of Testing Integrity by phone (800-353-8570), fax (609-406-9709), or e-mail ([email protected]). Students and parents may also contact SAT customer service at (866) 756-7346 or [email protected], while educators can contact the SAT educators’ help line.
Customer service and help line staffers will forward all reports to the Office of Testing Integrity. Test takers also have the option of speaking with a member of the testing staff before, during or after the administration. We encourage anyone with knowledge of a testing irregularity, unusual behavior or cheating to contact E.T.S. or the College Board as soon as possible following an administration to ensure that an investigation is launched before scores are released. All information provided will be held strictly confidential.
Detailed information about how to report testing irregularities, unusual behavior or suspicions of cheating is provided in the paper SAT registration guide, during online SAT registration, in the SAT test center supervisors’ manual and in letters and e-mails sent to score recipients (high schools, colleges and universities).