Matt’s Past SAT/ACT News Update:

Matt O'Connor

Sep 07, 2018

Another controversy regarding the SAT has erupted after questions on the test form administered to students in the US on August 25th seem to have already been leaked and/or previously used in Asia.

Scott Jaschik covered the story for Inside Higher Ed:


As students left testing centers nationwide Saturday, having finished taking the SAT, reports started to circulate that some may have had an unfair advantage because of leaked versions of the test that had been circulating in South Korea and China.

Posts to Twitter and elsewhere on social media featured images with Saturday's test questions, indicating that they had been available earlier in Asia.

This post at left [see attached image] was quickly followed by others, generally saying that the August SAT contained questions from one given in the fall and/or leaked in the fall in Asia. People who work with students who took the SAT reported that their clients confirmed the questions were on Saturday's SAT.

This article from NBC News discusses the College Board response to the apparent question leak and re-use: College Board issues statement in response to rumors of SAT test leak from Asia


In a statement to NBC News, College Board said that the organization has worked 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," but declined to comments on "specifics of question usage and test administration schedules."

"In response to theft and organized cheating, which affects all of high stakes testing, we have significantly increased our test security efforts and resources," College Board said in a statement.

The statement was issued in response to some users on social media and texting apps claiming that questions on the August 2018 SAT were leaked early online, giving some students an unfair advantage.

"Does Collegeboard know that their test book of August SAT is leaked already in China and South Korea way before the test start? Is this fair to the other students?," Twitter user Qufan Yang tweeted, along with an image of what appeared to be a test used outside North America. NBC News has not verified if the image is legitimate.

Yang wrote to another user saying the test answers had circulated on an app called "WeChat."

This Newsday article contains more information about the controversy, as well as quotes from FairTest's Bob Schaeffer:


“We know that many test-takers had said they had seen the test in advance,” Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a Boston-based organization critical of the SAT and ACT exams, said in an interview Wednesday.

“We don’t know how many people saw the test in advance or how much that would have changed results," he said.

College Board has come under fire in recent years for recycling exam questions at a time when security breaches have become more common.

“In the 21st century, in an era of micro-cameras, secret messaging apps, etc., once a test is administered, it’s widely available,” Schaeffer said. There are test preparation businesses, particularly in China and South Korea, that specialize in stealing the exams, he said.

The College Board now faces a potential class-action lawsuit due to the August SAT controversy. A follow-up article by Scott Jaschik has details, including discussion of competing views on whether the scores should be cancelled. As Jaschik points out, the August test date scores will be crucial to many students looking for improvement on their SAT scores before applying to colleges via early decision.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has also written a detailed article about the lawsuit and the recent issues with SAT test security.


The College Board has been recycling questions on SAT exams for years, prompting repeated cheating episodes, with some scores withheld at virtually every test administration because of suspected security breaches.

Cheating has flourished in Asia through a sophisticated system employed by test prep companies and others and made possible in large part because the College Board reuses questions in Asia that have appeared in the United States, student advocacy groups and counselors say. This has been most common since the SAT was revised two years ago. In the latest episode, however, students reported that some of the questions on the August 2018 SAT given in the United States included questions given in October 2017 in Asia.

The College Board and ACT Inc., which owns the ACT college admissions exam, have repeatedly declined to discuss in detail security breaches or what they are doing to prevent them. Bob Schaeffer, education director of the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a group known as FairTest that advocates against the misuse and abuse of standardized tests, said in a statement:

Though College Board executives continue to turn a blind eye to the problems caused by repeatedly reusing previously administered pencil-and-paper exams -- despite evidence that test content has been quickly compromised after first use -- ACT is at least pursuing a partial "fix." Of course, ACT's latest, much more expensive computerized exam initiative will be effective only until the first hacker breaks into their test delivery system.

The most recent test security scandals will be a further source of momentum to the test-optional admissions surge. Already this spring and summer, more than a dozen schools (including the University of Chicago and several state university campuses) have dropped their ACT/SAT exam requirements. These institutions recognize that test scores provide little if any useful information in the undergraduate admissions process.

Catherine Gewertz of Education Week has also posted an article about the SAT re-use controversy that covers other test security issues that have arisen around the new version of the test.


The College Board told Education Week in an email that it anticipates "most" multiple-choice scores will be posted online on Sept. 7 as scheduled. Company spokeswoman Jaslee Carayol said that the company is using the same procedures it uses after every test, including "conducting a comprehensive statistical analysis" of some scores.

If it determines that some students "have gained an unfair advantage," she said, the College Board "will take appropriate actions, including cancelling test scores and, in some cases, prohibiting them from taking another College Board assessment."

ACT, Inc. has also been sued on a class-action basis due to it's alleged sale of confidential information to colleges and universities regarding student test-takers' disabilities. Here is the explanatory language from the lawsuit:

"This action arises out of ACT’s illegal disclosure and sale of highly sensitive and confidential information about students’ disabilities to colleges and universities. The sale and disclosure of student disability data are flagrant violations of the privacy and civil rights of students with disabilities. ACT profits off these violations and uses them to gain an edge in the marketplace over its only competitor, the College Board, which does not disclose students’ disabilities to colleges and universities."

In California, state legislators seem to be working at cross purposes to UC regarding the use of the SAT and ACT.

The California legislature has approved the "Pathways to College Act", a bill to allow California school districts to substitute the SAT or ACT for the statewide high school exam. California currently administers the Smarter Balanced-aligned California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). If signed into law by the governor, the first alternative use of SAT/ACT would occur in 2020-21.

Issues at play:

---The SBAC tests are untimed, and the average 11th grader requires 7.5 hours to complete the exam (over a 2-week period). Some districts currently administer SBAC plus either the SAT or ACT. Whether or not the SAT/ACT are currently given in a district, testing time would be reduced by dropping SBAC.

---Students are more likely to prepare for and apply themselves during testing to achieve the best score they can on the college entrance exams, while student enthusiasm for the SBAC is lower.

---Many educators cite the possible increase in the number of students considering higher education (particularly 4-year colleges) if they are exposed to SAT/ACT (as well as to the marketing contacts from colleges post-test).

---The SAT/ACT have not been adequately assessed to conform to California or SBAC standards, but the bill allows use of the tests in lieu of SBAC if another state that has adopted the Common Core State Standards has performed a study which has found such a conformation.

---Both California's Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst are opposed to using the SAT or ACT as a summative high school assessment in California.

While the California legislature has approved a policy that would result in a de-emphasis of CAASPP and a probable expansion of SAT/ACT use, the University of California has suggested that it might be moving in the opposite direction. UC has conducted a study of the correlation between scores on the statewide CAASPP and freshman UC grades, and UC will continue to assess if the statewide test scores should be part of UC admissions consideration.

[Matt note: while the article linked just above contains a mention of SBAC possibly replacing SAT/ACT in UC admissions consideration, there is now a disclaimer at the bottom of the article stating, "A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the university is considering replacing the SAT and ACT with the 11-grade Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. In fact, it is considering the SBAC as an additional factor in the admissions process."


The UC system is considering a proposal to add the 11th-grade Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, as an additional factor for freshman admission.

In 2017, California State Board of Education President Michael Kirst approached the UC Academic Senate Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, or BOARS, and proposed that the UC and CSU systems include 11th-grade SBAC scores as an additional factor — and potentially even as an alternative to the SAT and ACT — in freshman admissions decisions.

BOARS recently authorized a study of 11th-grade SBAC scores to determine if the proposed change to admissions decisions would be plausible, according to UC Office of the President spokesperson Danielle Smith. The purpose of the study, Smith said, is to determine if the SBAC exam is “sufficiently fair and rigorous” to use as a criterion for freshman admission to UC schools.

The study revealed that the SAT has a stronger association with first-year GPA than does the SBAC, though the difference in correlation is reduced to .02 when taking into account factors including ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

BOARS chair Henry Sanchez said the committee will likely need to analyze five to six years of data before deciding whether or not to implement a policy change.

Duelling op-eds have recently been published in EdSource regarding the potential policy change by California that would allow school districts to administer the SAT/ACT instead of California's statewide summative exam:

Christopher J. Steinhauser, Superintendent of Schools for the Long Beach Unified School District has written an op-ed published in EdSource supporting the substitution of SAT/ACT for SBAC.

Jay Rosner, the Executive Director of The Princeton Review Foundation (which provides test prep resources to low-income and underrepresented minority students) has written an op-ed opposing the use of SAT/ACT in lieu of California's SBAC exams.

Three more universities have announced the adoption of test optional policies, bringing the total to 15 for the calendar year of 2018:

---Stockton University (ranked #41 by US News among in Regional Universities North; 7,800 undergraduates; 77% acceptance rate; SAT 25th-75th percentile of 960-1160). [Note: Stockton seems to have adopted a test optional policy with less than full enthusiasm, as fully 23 majors at Stockton will still require the submission of SAT/ACT scores]

---Concordia University--St. Paul (US News-ranked #106 in Regional Universities Midwest; 2,600 undergraduates; 56% acceptance rate; ACT 25th-75th percentile of 18-24).

---William Patterson University (ranked #102 by US News among Regional Universities North; 9,100 undergraduates; 76% acceptance rate; SAT 25th-75th percentile of 890-1080)