This past weekend, thousands of students across the United States took College Board’s SAT, the critical – and often stressful – college entrance exam. Many of these students put in hundreds of hours in preparation, hoping it would be the last time they took the exam before submitting college applications.
However, according to the Los Angeles Times, some of the test’s answers may have been leaked online in China and South Korea. Students allege that the test given last weekend in the United States included exact passages and questions from the October 2017 exam that was given internationally.
In the past 48 hours, I’ve been flooded with calls, emails, and texts from concerned parents and students who are understandably frustrated and unsure of what will happen. I’m hoping to answer their (and likely your) most frequently asked questions below. You can also view an ABC News segment about the reported leak.
Question 1: What are the main security issues with the SAT that happened in the past few years?
In recent years, a series of scandals has jeopardized the integrity of the SAT exam and the credibility of College Board. First, students were paying others (sometimes over $5,000) to take their tests for them. Both College Board and ACT addressed that issue and now require that students upload a photo when they register for the exam. That photo appears on the admission ticket and must match a school- or state-issued ID checked by the proctors.
Second, students were leaking questions online. In 2016, Reuters news agency reported that leaks of exam questions were pervasive, especially in China. Now Chinese students must travel to Hong Kong and Taiwan to take standardized exams.
Question 2: How is it possible students would have known the August 2018 SAT repeated questions from the October 2017 SAT?
College Board offers a program called Question-and-Answer Service for its October, March, and May exams each year. Families who sign up for this service and pay its $18 fee receive access to the entire exam with a full breakdown of the questions answered correctly and incorrectly. ACT offers the same service, which it calls Test-Information-Release, for $20 for its December, April, and June exams.
This offering is incredibly valuable and gives students an opportunity to review their full exams and learn from their mistakes. This service is one that should absolutely be preserved.
However, the students’ allegations suggest that College Board reused questions from the October 2017 exam on this August 2018 test. *If* that is true, then it’s also true that students who paid for, received, and reviewed the October 2017 exam to study would have already seen the questions that appeared on this past weekend’s exam.
To be clear, the students in this scenario didn’t do anything wrong. They ordered a service that’s offered by College Board and did their due diligence to review it thoroughly and learn from their mistakes.
However, those questions from a publicly available exam should not have been reused verbatim — if that did in fact happen — because of the unfair advantage it gives to students who could afford to purchase College Board’s Question-and-Answer service.
Question 3: What are the consequences of this potential SAT test leak from Asia?
The possibility that the August 2018 scores will be canceled is devastating to students and their families. Students studied all summer, in earnest, only to find out that they might have their scores cancelled. That takes an emotional toll and also can disrupt students’ timing as they prepare for college applications. While there is a petition to invalidate all test scores from the August exam, College Board issued a statement that most scores from August’s administration will be available, as scheduled, on September 7, 2018. College Board has promised to do a “comprehensive statistical analysis of certain test scores” and will cancel the scores of those believed to have cheated.
College Board issued a statement that it’s working to “strike a balance between thwarting those seeking an unfair advantage and providing testing opportunities for the vast majority of students who play by the rules.” It’s worth noting that College Board declined to comment on “specifics of question usage and test administration schedules.” Translation: College Board won’t confirm or deny if it reused questions from the October 2017 exam on the August 2018 exam.
At this time, no one has verified if anyone cheated on the exam, nor has anyone verified if the October 2017 SAT used in Asia was the same test administered in the United States in August 2018.
Question 4: Does this test leak put underrepresented students at an additional disadvantage?
This news also has a particularly adverse effect on underrepresented students, who are already at a disadvantage on these exams. The New York Times reported on Monday that disadvantaged students are less likely to take standardized tests more than one time, which lowers their chances of college acceptance. High-income students and those who identify as white or Asian are more likely to retake the SAT and ACT. “Students with family income over $100,000 are 21 percentage points more likely to retake tests than students with family income below $50,000.”
We must recognize that many students were only able to take the SAT this past weekend by rescheduling work or family obligations. It’s possible that if their scores are cancelled that these students won’t have the opportunity to retake the SAT without negative financial impact to their families.
Also, students who meet income-based eligibility criteria and receive subsidized school lunch can receive fee waivers for the SAT, but they only get two waivers. If this August exam used their second waiver and their scores gets canceled, then College Board should reissue fee waivers and allow these students the opportunity to take it again to avoid any financial impact.
Question 5: What’s next for College Board?
The SAT was overtaken by ACT as the preferred exam for high school students in 2012, and it’s been that way ever since. In 2016, College Board released a new version of the SAT that basically took on the look, feel, and content of the ACT, so the tests are now much more similar.
Combine test security and integrity issues with students’ waning confidence in College Board and one has to wonder if the SAT will ever regain its dominance in the world of college entrance exams.
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