After Aug 25 SAT, Internet Is Abuzz with Allegations Test Illegally Leaked

On Saturday, Aug 25, the College Board administered the SAT, the three-hour standardized test used for college admission.

The SAT, which students in Greenwich study hard for – and anticipate so far in advance that they map dates into their junior and senior timelines – was not available in Greenwich on Aug 25.

But for many students whose only time to prep for the test was during the summer, the timing was ideal and it was offered in Guilford, Madison, Middlebury and Naugatuck to name a few.

On Saturday the College Board, who administers the tests, congratulated test takers.

Almost immediately after test centers emptied, students started complaining online that others had an advantage in the test because leaked versions had circulated in South Korea and China.

Reaction on Twitter was swift.

Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president at De Paul University in Chicago wrote in a Tweet that the test was the same one they had taken last October.

On Monday, Inside Higher Ed wrote that the use of recycled test questions can create fairness issues, depending on which students have seen questions.

It wasn’t long before the College Board Tweeted again, hinting that there had been complaints, but overall staying mum.

“For those of you who have asked about the SAT test on Saturday, Aug. 25/Sunday, Aug. 26, we do not comment on the specifics of test form and/or question usage, in order to protect the security of our tests.”

They went on to say most multiple-choice scores from the August SAT will be available online on Sept 7 as planned.

Early Tuesday morning, the LA Times wrote that the test’s answers may have been leaked online.

The article said that years of security breaches and scandals undermined the trust that college officials once had in the College Board, and that a National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, found in a survey that nearly 60% of four-year colleges had concerns over fraudulent application materials.

A look at the College Board’s Test Security and Fairness section seems there are well thought out controls on the day of the test. Cell phones and devices are banned. Students must use photo IDs to prevent people from hiring others to take the test for them. There are strict rules on discussing or sharing questions and answers.

Further, the College Board’s senior director of media relations, Zachary Goldberg, told the LA Times his company has systems in place to thwart attempts at cheating.

“We have a comprehensive approach to test security, and go to great lengths to make sure that all test scores we report are accurate and valid,” Goldberg told the LA Times, adding that after every test administration, they take additional quality control steps before scores are released.

“If we determine a student gained an unfair advantage, we will take appropriate actions, including canceling test scores,” Goldberg said.

Reached by email on Tuesday, GHS head of Guidance Judith Nedell said, “At this time of year, it’s hard to reflect on anything well, but from my experience, I know that the College Board does elaborate and detailed statistical analysis, so mathematically, I’m not surprised they can detect performance anomalies.”

Nedell shared a link to a post entitled “Thoughts on the August SAT” by Charlie O’Hearn of Summit Educational Group, a test prep and tutoring company, who said there is significant evidence that the Aug 25 SAT was the same as the international SAT given in Oct 2017.

O’Hearn said the reuse of tests raises important issues and that while the College Board releases recent tests three times a year, the international Oct 2017 SAT was not one of them.

Instead, he said the test was leaked illegally online months prior to Aug 25.  “Thus, some students may have seen that test prior to Saturday’s administration.”

He also said there are reports that students who sat for the international Oct 2017 SAT and took the Aug 25 SAT were given the same test.

Even if the College Board has ways to spot anomalies, the perception of unfairness persists.

In an article in Teen Vogue on Monday, Suzannah Weiss argued that the real problem is how this type of cheating in Asia on standardized testing puts American students at a disadvantage. At cram schools in Asia, tutors compile study guides with plenty of real questions from previous tests.

In recent years American students are competing with a record number of Chinese nationals for places in American universities.

“Seems like another reason to no longer make these exams mandatory, and instead, solely focus on a student’s whole body of work throughout their high schools careers, and not just one score, on one test,”  Weiss wrote.

A 2016 article in Reuters argued that cram schools are part of “a vibrant Asian industry that systematically exploits security shortcomings in the SAT” and argues the College Board’s routine practice of reusing material from previous tests makes them vulnerable.

A thread on reddit “ApplyintToCollege” about the Aug 25 SAT test has hundreds of comments from both US and international students.

One student had the College Board in his crosshairs:

“It sort of just feels unfair to people who have studied their heart out. I get that many Chinese student did the test because their tutor gave it to them and it was just luck but honestly is it really that hard to write a new test?”

One Chinese students wrote on reddit that some students who took the test in 2017 could have done well without intending to cheat.

It is perfectly plausible that people flew over because this was the first administration in a few months, and had nothing to do with prior knowledge.

And this from an international student on the reddit thread:

It is not surprising for international kids to fly to America for August SAT. It’s not offered in our countries and we want that extra shot at it, just like all the Americans who took it today. This is also a good chance to visit American colleges.

And this Tweet, one of many speculating how the College Board may rectify the situation.

The associate vice president from De Paul seemed to agree, Tweeting:

O’Hearn said the practice of reusing tests for both the SAT and ACT is intentional and is not new. He said the international May SAT was recycled from a US April school day SAT test.

However, he noted that because there are seven national test dates, roughly five separate school day tests, and Sunday testing for students with religious conflicts, in order for the College Board to come up with unique tests for each occasion, they need to come up with more than 20 tests per year.

That translates to a new test every two or three weeks on an ongoing basis.

“I don’t know the percentage of students who gained an advantage this past Saturday, but I imagine it is tiny, probably less than 0.1%,” O’Hearn concluded. “Apparently, the College Board is willing to accept that. Perhaps the bigger question is whether colleges will continue to accept that as well.”