Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt OConnor

Jan 19, 2019

Cancellation of test scores on both the SAT and ACT due to suspicion of student cheating has recently resulted in controversy and legal action.

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed coves the SAT-related controversy:


Kamilah Campbell is an 18-year-old high school student in Florida who first took the SAT in March 2018 and earned a score of 900. According to her lawyer, she took the SAT that time without any preparation, on her counselor's recommendation, merely to establish a "baseline" and to figure out what additional work she needed to do.

So like countless other students who were not happy with their first SAT scores, she went to work. She studied, did practice tests, received tutoring and spent a lot of time with Khan Academy resources (which are endorsed by the College Board). In October she took the SAT again and earned a score of 1230, a competitive score for a Florida State applicant.

That's not the happy ending to this story.

The Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT for the College Board, has refused to validate Campbell's second score. According to Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer who is representing Campbell, an ETS official first told her that she must have had "prior knowledge" of the test, based on the substantial increase she achieved. Now, in written communication, ETS has said that it believes her scores should be invalidated because of "substantial agreement" between some of her answers and some of the answers of other test takers. According to Crump, ETS has provided no evidence that Campbell cheated in any way. Rather, he said that ETS appears to assume there is no legitimate way she could have increased her score as much as she did.

In response to this case, the College Board has released a statement: Clarifying the College Board’s Score Review Process


When we issue scores, we need to make sure they are valid and trustworthy. As such, we conduct statistical analyses on every answer document we receive for every SAT administration to flag potential score validity concerns. In each administration, the vast majority of scores are released; there is only a relatively small number of scores placed under review or cancelled.

Student scores are never placed under review or cancelled simply because of score gains. Score reviews are triggered by a range of factors that cast doubt on the validity of a score.

Here are some of the types of evidence that can prompt a score review or suggest invalidity:

---A student’s answer sheet resembles another student’s, or more concerningly, a group of students who have very similar answers, including the same wrong answers.
---The same group includes students whose scores have been canceled for irregularities in the past.
---The group of students’ answers match not only one another’s, but an answer key or “cheat sheet” that has been found circulating among students.
---There is an absence of any scratch work in the student’s testing booklet.

Each of these factors and other similar evidence are rare. In combination, they are extremely rare and establish very strongly that a score is not valid.

The Huffington Post has published an article looking at the issue of cancellation of SAT/ACT scores: When Standardized Tests Penalize Kids For Scoring Too High


The process ETS has initiated in Campbell’s case subverts due process: Rather than putting the onus on the testing bodies to prove that students cheated, it requires students to prove that they didn’t.

According to an email from the College Board, “out of 2 [million] students in the class of 2018, close to 2,000 SAT students’ scores were flagged for further review.” Another 1.9 million students in the class of 2018 took the ACT, the SAT’s main competitor. While the ACT doesn’t release statistics about flagged scores, its policies and procedures regarding testing irregularities are similar to those of the SAT.

Neither ACT nor SAT needs hard evidence that a student has cheated to cancel a student’s scores. A document detailing procedures for investigating questioned scores notes that “ACT reserves the right to cancel test scores when there is reason to believe that scores are invalid. Proof of misconduct is not required to cancel scores.” In other words, testing agencies can cancel scores even if a student didn’t actually cheat.

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed also covers the ACT score-cancellation lawsuit:


May 2 is a date that should be one of little stress for successful high school seniors. May 1 is the deadline to reply to admissions offers.

But for Brendan Clare, May 2 was a day that nearly derailed his college plans. On that day he received a letter from ACT (sent a few days earlier) telling him that ACT had concerns about the validity of his test scores. As a result, Clare had a choice of either having his scores invalidated, offering evidence that they were valid or retaking the test.

ACT suspected that the gains he made from the first to second times he took the ACT (in June and September of 2017) were the result of cheating. Clare was aware that Pennsylvania State University, which he planned to attend, could withdraw his admissions offer based on revoked ACT scores. He was also aware that he had just turned down other admissions offers, including one with a $25,000 scholarship offer. (He had gone up from a 21 composite score, slightly above the national average, to a 26, much better, but hardly record-setting on the exam where a perfect score would be 36.)

At first, Clare tried to convince ACT that he hadn't cheated. When that didn't work, he retook the test and earned a score close enough to his second score (despite the added stress of the exam being the ultimate high-stakes test) that ACT dropped its challenge to his scores, and Clare was able to enroll at Penn State. But with help from his father, a lawyer, Clare and his mother sued ACT in New Jersey court on multiple grounds.

The suit accuses ACT of harming Clare in multiple ways, including by failing to notify him of its doubts about his test scores until just after he would have accepted or turned down offers of college admission -- eight and 10 months after he took the test. He might have cleared up the situation well before he faced deadlines from colleges, the suit charges, and there is no reason for ACT to have waited until a time that it knew was the college decision day.

A key part of the Clare suit is a challenge to the way ACT (and others in the testing business) require those taking a test to agree to binding arbitration in the event of disputes over test scores. Clare's suit notes that he could not have taken the retest that cleared him without agreeing to the binding arbitration agreement. He argues that this requirement was unfair and illegal. If he wins his suit, the challenge could open up the way for many other students to take legal action, something that the mandatory arbitration clause makes exceedingly difficult.

In a potentially crucial update to the score cancellation articles above, a New Jersey judge has thrown out ACT's binding arbitration clause, which students must sign before taking the exam.


A New Jersey judge has found that the binding arbitration requirement everyone who takes the ACT must sign is "unconscionable" and may not be enforced in the case of a student suing the testing organization.

While the ruling currently applies to one case, the lawyer representing that student says he believes it is the first time that the clause has been invalidated in lawsuits against either ACT or the College Board, which has a similar clause for test takers. If the ruling stands, it could become much easier for people to sue testing companies.

The ruling came in a suit by Brendan Clare against ACT, seeking damages against the organization for -- in his view -- incorrectly challenging his ACT scores and endangering his chances of admission to college. Beyond the central charge in his case, he also accuses ACT of acting in ways that caused him substantial damage. For instance, he says that ACT notified him that his scores were being challenged many months after he took the test and the day after he had to respond to college admissions offers. (In the end, he took the ACT again and achieved a score close enough to the challenged score that ACT released it, enabling him to enroll at Pennsylvania State University.)

ACT has denied wrongdoing and has attempted to have the suit blocked by citing mandatory arbitration clauses that Clare signed (at the age of 17) when registering for the test. This week's ruling by Judge Michael J. Rogers did not cover the merits of the lawsuit, but rejected ACT's request that the binding arbitration provisions be enforced.

Catherine Gewertz of Education Week writes about a New Jersey court decision that prevents the PARCC exam from being used to determine which students merit graduation from high school.


A New Jersey court has nixed the state's requirement that students pass the PARCC exam in order to graduate.

The ruling doesn't change the requirement that students take the PARCC exams, but it means they can't be used as graduation requirements for this year's seniors and subsequent classes, said David Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center, which led a group of organizations in the lawsuit against the rules.

Gov. Phil Murphy has pledged to replace PARCC, but hasn't chosen a test to replace it yet.

The Garden State is one of about a dozen that require students to pass a test in order to graduate from high school. New Jersey and New Mexico are the only two states that use the PARCC tests as "exit exams."

The last sentence in the excerpt above has been superseded by events, as New Mexico's governor has decided to discontinue the use of PARCC as a graduation assessment and teacher evaluation tool.


Not long after being sworn in as New Mexico’s new governor this week, Michelle Lujan Grisham signed executive orders to suspend and replace the controversial PARCC test, the standardized exam used in schools to evaluate students and teachers.

Grisham on Wednesday ordered the state’s Public Education Department to begin the process of ending the state’s use of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers standardized test, which was created by a multistate consortium funded by the administration of President Barack Obama.

She also ordered the department to find a better way to assess whether schools are complying with federal law and to include teachers, parents, students and assessment experts.

The move by Grisham, who was sworn in Tuesday, ends what critics have called an obsession with high-stakes standardized tests to evaluate schools and teachers through complicated algorithms that educators and assessment experts say are not fair or reliable.

It remains to be seen if New Jersey or New Mexico will turn their eyes to the SAT or ACT as high school assessments, as many other states have done in the last few years.

Business Insider offers a feature looking at the number and type of standardized tests students around the world must take to succeed in high school and gain admittance to college.

One parent gives her perspective on the highly competitive education and career treadmill, which in her view demands too much of students, too soon in their development.

Thought leaders in education tout the benefit of a growth mind-set and making mistakes. Embrace imperfection. Schools host screenings of documentaries about managing angst and anxiety, at the same time cranking up the intensity in our kids’ classrooms, sending parents and students a mixed message. Which is it: balance and self-care; or rise to the rigor? Kindergarten is the new first grade, and middle school is engineered as a fast track to the Ivy Leagues. New curriculum sifts the exceptional from the average, often allowing the latter to struggle — all for the sake of high test scores, college acceptance rates and district accolades.

Education has become a high-stakes Rube Goldberg machine, propelling our kids from one academic pressure to the next with no end in sight. What has existed until now as an implied tenet, is becoming a tangible reality: Be exceptional, or be a failure; there is no middle ground.