Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jul 24, 2019

Politico has published a detailed article regarding the potential for cheating at SAT/ACT testing centers: "Crucial flaw remains in college testing process"


The organizations that run the nation’s two major college entrance exams brag about a robust and ever-expanding security system meant to block would-be cheaters: Tightly controlled testing rooms with photos required to get in, strict scripts for test administrators, seating charts and more.

But there’s one big hole: The entire system is dependent on the people involved — the test-site supervisors and proctors, usually school employees looking to make some extra cash — doing the right thing.

And the College Board and ACT have virtually no oversight of many of those individuals.

“Everything in this process is based on belief, acceptance that the people in the process will be honest,” said Akil Bello, a longtime test prep coach who has taken the SAT dozens of times and knows the process well.

The massive college admissions cheating scandal unveiled by the FBI earlier this year shows just how flimsy that approach can be, as the ringleader of the scheme paid off proctors to help dozens of students cheat on both the SAT and ACT — a method that he bragged to parents was the “home run of home runs.”

Now, admissions experts say, the companies need to do more than tout their strict rules and pay closer attention to the people they pick to enforce them. A POLITICO review found that the companies largely leave it up to school officials to pick the thousands of proctors who administer the tests. They appear to exercise little oversight of the people they hire to prevent cheating.

“You can essentially bring anybody in there as a proctor,” said Alicia Oglesby, a counselor at a Maryland high school who has overseen SAT testing there for the last four years.

Oglesby said everyone she hires is a current or former teacher at the school. But she said the College Board doesn’t check that and leaves it up to supervisors like her to staff up the test sites.

“It wouldn’t be super difficult to bring someone in who was like a professional test taker and say, ‘This is my proctor and this is going to proctor this student on this day’ — and it would be totally legitimate and follow the process as everyone else, but they would change the answers,” Oglesby said.

“I don’t think it would be too difficult to cheat,” she said. “I think the cheating would only be as monitored as the proctor wanted it to be.”
Despite the tight security measures, accusations of cheating are “constant,” said Anthony Carnevale, former vice president for public leadership at the Educational Testing Service, the company that College Board pays to develop and administer the SAT.

“It is a persistent problem,” said Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“The question then is, what happens after that,” Carnevale said.

But it’s increasingly difficult to spot cheating based simply on statistical irregularities — such as a dramatic improvement from one test to the next. The College Board, Educational Testing Service and ACT have “come to the point where they admit that if you use test prep, you can raise your score from 100 to 200 points,” Carnevale said, “contrary to the widely held assertion in the testing industry that you can’t change your score.”

“It’s pretty clear somebody can change their test score from 100 to 200 points, so does it have to be 300 points before you flag somebody?” he said.

“If you’re armed with a doctor and a lawyer, you can get away with a lot,” Carnevale said. “The cost of policing the system would be very high.”

NPR covers an announcement by the University of Chicago regarding the impact of the University's recent adoption of a test optional policy on its newly-enrolled freshman class:


The number of first-generation and low-income students who committed to attending the highly selective University of Chicago this fall increased 20% over the previous year, according to new data released by the university Wednesday.

University officials are crediting the increase in these students, who are traditionally underrepresented on the Hyde Park campus, with a program they introduced last year, the UChicago Empower Initiative. It increased financial aid opportunities for students and made standardized test scores optional in the application process.

According to the university, the percentage of first-generation students increased from 9% to 12% of the total incoming class. The percentage of incoming students receiving Pell Grants, federal dollars given to low-income students, increased from 11% to 14%. The university would not provide raw numbers.

UChicago was the first highly selective, research school to become test-optional, joining hundreds of private liberal arts universities who are trying to diversify their student bodies and attract more low-income and first-generation college students.

Only 10% to 15% of students did not submit test scores with the application last year.

Jim Jump, a frequent opinion contributor to Inside Higher Ed, has written an article taking a deeper look at the University of Chicago’s statement characterizing the outcome of its recent adoption of a test optional admissions policy.


Two weeks ago Chicago issued a news release declaring the program a success, although, as pointed out by Inside Higher Ed, without a lot of detail. The university increased enrollment of first-gen and low-income students by 20 percent and rural students by 56 percent, and it enrolled 14 veterans after having none the previous year. It accomplished this while lowering its admit rate to 6 percent and raising its average SAT score.

…what signals does going test optional send? In my experience most students are strategic thinkers, drawn to a policy if it improves their chances for admission. Ten to 15 percent of Chicago’s applicants didn’t submit scores. But what would happen if there were more high-end test-optional colleges? Would students be as drawn to testing if fewer places required the SAT and ACT? If students didn’t have to take admission tests, would they still do so, and what would happen to the American economy if the College Board and the test-prep industry were no longer as profitable?

The Inside Higher Ed coverage of Chicago’s “report card” included this sentence: “As a result of the changes, Chicago was able to admit lots of students it couldn’t admit before.” I find that statement intriguing. Why is that?

Obviously if the changes generated applications from outstanding students who wouldn’t otherwise have considered Chicago, then Chicago was able to admit students it couldn’t admit before. But is there more to it than that?

Did going test optional allow Chicago to select and admit differently? There is certainly a suspicion that other colleges have gone the test-optional route less for philosophical reasons and more for profile protection reasons. Being test optional allows a college or university to achieve various institutional goals (athletics, diversity, development) without taking a hit to its test score profile.

KJZZ has interviewed Eric Hoover of the Chronicle of Higher Education regarding the College Board's new "adversity index". The 7-minute audio interview is available here.

An article from the Philadelphia Inquirer covers a proposal by Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale that the state scrap its Keystone Exams for high school students, instead using the SAT or ACT for federal accountability purposes.


Every spring, thousands of Pennsylvania high school students take the Keystone Exams, standardized tests given at public schools in the commonwealth.

The tests come with a hefty price tag: Over the last decade, the state has paid a Minnesota company $425 million for the Keystones and for a second test, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams, administered to third through eighth graders.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale thinks that the state should scrap the Keystones and replace them “with a different standardized test statistically proven to help students realize their potential for higher education, careers or other callings.”

DePasquale...suggests that Pennsylvania pivot to using the SAT or ACT — the exams accepted or required by many colleges. He was joined at a recent news conference on the topic by State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester), a longtime critic of the Keystone Exams.

Some states are already using the SAT or ACT instead of a state-specific test to meet their federal requirements, but no state has fully met the feds’ requirements for their long-term use. States must demonstrate that any exam is closely aligned with state standards, and that it meets the needs of all learners, including students with special needs.

DePasquale figures the state could save at least $1 million a year if it switched from Keystones to administering the PSAT and SAT to high school students.

Adam Edgerton, a researcher and doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, noted that losing the Keystones in favor of the SAT could have unintended consequences: The SAT tests only math knowledge, writing, and reading.

“That would get rid of science testing, and I think it would reduce the emphasis on science in high school,” Edgerton said. “If you’re not testing something anymore, you’re not measuring it, and you’re not valuing it.”

Elizabeth Redden at Inside Higher Ed has written an article regarding the increasing number of test optional colleges that are allowing international students to forgo the submission of test scores. Test optional colleges have traditionally required scores from overseas applicants.


International students applying to U.S. universities will find a potentially confusing patchwork of standardized testing policies, with admission practices often differing for international versus domestic applicants.

To be clear, test optional in this article refers to test optional for SAT or ACT only, not to standardized English proficiency tests such as the TOEFL or IELTS, which typically are treated as important factors in the international admission process.

Bucknell University, which announced a new test-optional policy in February, will continue to require SAT or ACT scores from international applicants for what Kevin Mathes, the dean of admissions, described as credential verification purposes. Mathes said the test-optional policy is being piloted for five years and one of the questions the institution will look at is whether to extend it to international applicants.

“When I think about the admissions landscape, we know that there are some areas where you have to be careful about the academic credentials that you’re receiving in terms of, ‘is what is being provided to you as an institution how a student is actually performing,’” Mathes said of the decision to keep the standardized testing requirement for international applicants.

Other colleges that recently became test optional for domestic applicants already were for at least some of their international applicants. Todd Rinehart, the vice chancellor for enrollment at the University of Denver, which announced its new test-optional policy in March, said the university previously required submission of SAT or ACT scores only for those international applicants who attended American-style schools. "It just didn’t make sense to require a U.S.-centric exam for students studying under a completely different system. With that said, many of those students historically submitted test scores, and many have very strong scores," he said.

An article in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution offers news that the State of Georgia is taking a step towards de-emphasizing statewide exams, as it has received federal approval to implement new exams in 21 school districts, in place of the currently administered Georgia Milestones.


Georgia is joining a small group of states that have won tentative approval from the federal government to experiment with new ways of testing students.

If everything goes as planned, two groups comprising 21 Georgia school districts will be able to substitute their own homemade tests for the state standardized tests as soon as the coming school year. Before that can happen, the groups must produce evidence that the scores from their tests are “comparable” with the existing state tests and develop a way to measure literacy, which the current tests already do, but the new decision from the U.S. Department of Education is a major one for teachers in the affected districts, and eventually for the whole state.

The current state tests, called the Georgia Milestones, are required as a school accountability tool. Teachers see them as burdensome, saying they consume valuable time while raising stress levels without producing useful data. That forces schools to heap on other, voluntary tests that produce results they can use to guide instruction. Students get tired of all the testing, said Kelli De Guire, a high school teacher in Calhoun City Schools, one of the districts approved for the federal waiver.

“When they get test exhaustion, they don’t do their best, and I don’t blame them,” she said.

One reason the home-grown tests are more useful is that the scores are generated quickly. They are more like quizzes than final exams — bite-sized tests given throughout the school year. By comparison, the scores from the Milestones taken last spring have not yet been released and aren’t expected until the end of July. “If you’re going to do testing, it should be meaningful, and with the Milestones, we get the scores back months and months later, when they’re no longer relevant,” said Beth Knight, who teaches fourth grade in Cobb County.

As covered by Inside Higher Ed, the cancellation of SAT scores in Egypt due to suspicions of irregular activity has led to a lawsuit by Egyptian students. The issue sheds light on the College Board’s policy regarding test score cancellation:


A group of about 50 Egyptian students whose May 4 SAT scores were canceled for test security-related reasons has filed suit in federal court seeking to compel College Board to release their scores. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield denied the students’ motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and asked the plaintiffs to file a letter by today indicating whether they will consent to arbitration.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Yasser Helal, said he will not consent to arbitration in part because he does not believe the option is available for the students to contest their score cancellations. The SAT’s terms and conditions say that arbitration over the issue of invalid scores is an available option only for tests administered in the U.S. and U.S. territories.

“We’re pleased the judge rejected the plaintiff’s motion,” Zachary Goldberg, a spokesman for the College Board, which owns the SAT, said via email.

Goldberg added that the organization “shared directly with the students’ representative the overwhelming evidence that led us to cancel their May SAT scores.”

Two more universities have announced the adoption of test optional policies:

---Dominican University of California (ranked no. 25 by US News among Regional Universities West; 1,300 undergraduates enrolled; 76% acceptance rate; SAT 25th-75th percentile of 1040-1215)

---Rockhurst University (ranked #23 by US News among Regional Universities Midwest; 2,200 undergraduates; 72% acceptance rate; ACT 25th-75th percentile of 22-27)