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July 23, 2012 10:00 AM The Debate Behind New Policies of College Entrance Exams

By Christine Chun

For prospective college students, the SAT and ACT college entrance exams are an important part of their admissions process — so important that some cheat to obtain higher scores, as indicated by an SAT cheating scandal that broke out last September on Long Island. In response to the case of Samuel Eshagoff and 20 other students who took standardized exams for high-school students, the two companies that administer college entrance exams, the College Board and ACT Inc., implemented a new photo-ID requirement.

Before March 2012, exam administrators required test takers to present a photo ID on the day of the exam, but starting in the fall, students will have to submit a photo of themselves when registering for the test too.

The student must upload a photo online or send it through mail with registration for the exam. The photo will then be included in her admission ticket, which the student must present on the day of the exam. The photo must match the student’s appearance on test day or she will not be admitted.

This happened because for several years, Samuel Eshagoff, an Emory University student from Great Neck, New York, took the SAT or ACT exam for other students. For between $1,500 and $3,500 a student, Eshagoff, who scored in the 2,100 range on his own SAT, scored between 2,170 and 2,220 for students.

Authorities arrested Eshagoff in Sept 27, 2011 for criminal impersonation, scheming to defraud, and falsifying business records, according to the district attorney’s office of Nassau County. Cheating on the SAT, an examination produced and administered by a private company, is not itself illegal. Eshagoff pleaded not guilty but his case led to more investigations for other possible SAT scheme frauds, which resulted in 20 more students with criminal charges.

Finding ways (or people) to cheat on standardized tests has happened as long as schools have offered them. According to Educational Testing Services, a nonprofit that administers and scores the exams, the ETS cancels about 3,000 scores each year from schools across the country for cheating, with about 150 scores canceled due to impersonation.

A parent in Roslyn, New York told the New York Times that in the 1960s, his brother also charged students to take the tests for them, and in 1988, students of Brunswick School in Connecticut broke into a rival private school to obtain copies of the SAT questions the night before exam day. The following year, University of Kentucky administrators kicked Eric Manuel off the varsity basketball team after an investigation revealed that he had cheated on his ACT exam.

Before the scandal, the security system seemed successful in preventing and/or detecting cheaters, as indicated by the low number of cases of suspected cheating. In the past, the College Board and ETS have changed the policies mostly in accordance to changes in technology.

College Board and ETS prevented students from taking photographs or using audio recorders; they later prohibited use or access to all electronic devices. In addition, the development of copy machines and photo-editing programs has changed the way administrators document students’ scores and information.

How did Eshagoff and the other paid test takers get past the then-security measures? Apparently, they created fake identifications with their photos and the name of the teenager for whom they were taking the exam.

To combat this issue, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, along with security consultants of College Board and ACT Inc., came up with the new policy of uploading or mailing a photo of the test taker along with exam registration.

Ever since the announcement of the new policy, several bloggers, reporters, and commentators have expressed dissatisfaction, fearing that it will suppress participation of certain students.

Bill Hobbs, a reporter for CNSNews.com, explained that students are required to submit a photo at their own expense and argued that some may not have the necessary resources to do so.

“Students will not be given free photo IDs - they will have to, at their own expense, provide a photo to the testing companies,” Hobbs said.

The College Board’s Executive Director of Communications Kathleen Fineout Steinberg explained that this isn’t an issue for students, including those who don’t have or can’t afford government-issued IDs. The College Board accepts a range of identifications, from driver’s licenses and passports to high school IDs, which are usually free.

Steinberg concluded, “The College Board was created to democratize access to higher education for all students, and our goal is to help as many students as possible pursue their college aspirations.”

Discrimination is unlikely to be the major setback here anyway. As long as students are already taking standardized tests for admission to college, another step in that process probably won’t reduce participation.

The real problem might be that it won’t work. Bob Schaeffer, director of public education at the National Center for Fair & and Open Testing, also known as FairTest, an organization monitoring standardized tests for accuracy and fairness, said that the new policy won’t be as effective as the College Board and ACT Inc. claim because students can choose to upload headshots of their imposter test takers.

“The image on the registration form will match up with that of the person taking the exam so long as an equally phony ID is used at the test site,” Schaeffer said.

Rice, however, clarified that since administrators will send a follow-up report, along with the photograph, to each student’s high school after the exam, the new policy will not only deter cheating, but also make it easier to detect cheaters. Rice added that the College Board’s database would have the photograph file in case of future allegations of cheating as well.

The SAT and ACT scores to play an important role in a student’s university admission, as they are generally in the top three most important factors for admission. And because of the significance of exam scores, the exam administrators’ roles are important as well: how they design and regulate the tests can affect each student’s score.

So, how will the new ID requirement affect the students and the exam system? Will it deter cheating? Or are the extra security measures unnecessary? We may have to wait for the next standardized testing cheating scandal to find out.

Christine Chun is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan.

Comments

  • Dixie Hart on October 26, 2012 6:32 AM:

    I am both a mother and a teacher. I have observed my daughter, who is 17 yrs old and an A student - yes, with a few Bs on her transcript, struggling with self esteem issues as she takes the SATs. I finally told her that SAT scores do not make the student. It is her focus, determination, and commitment to her studies that makes the difference. I reminded her that when we visited schools like Brown and Yale and Harvard, that she really didn't like the atmosphere - which had an elitist feel to them.. That, in fact, she was more comfortable in a university setting. Her grades were great, and that a grade average of 3.85 overall was a wonderful grade average. So? She's not a test taker. That doesn't mean that she is not college material.

    I have now taken one more stand against public education - the amount of money we waste on assessment in this country is astounding. Rather, why not put that money directing into the students themselves - tutoring, counseling, projects. How about a portfolio assessment? Or, why not extend the hours for the SAT - some of us do not believe in this kind of competitive, high speed nonsense that does not translate into much in real life.

    Then I noticed that many colleges are not requiring the SATs or the ACT anymore. They simply look at the student's high school grades, activities, and commitment. I, for one, am glad to see it. Having taught those students with high SAT scores (2100, 2200, etc.), they annoy me to no end. Description: A bit arrogant, self satisfied individuals who think their memory and middle class status will save them from the test of life. Nope, my friends, it does not and never will.