Stop the Cheating: An Open Letter to the College Board and ACT

This is high season for high stakes standardized testing. Anyone who knows a 17-or 18-year-old high school senior knows how important the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests are to college applicants. While there is limited evidence that these tests actually predict anything more than the socio-economic level of the students' parents, colleges still rely on these tests as one way to measure all students and to make very difficult admissions decisions.

Every year, I work with hundreds of college applicants across all socio-economic levels. Each and every student has experienced the ultra high-pressure to perform well on these tests. To help the more affluent ones are a multi-billion industry of test prep specialists and extended parents who help their students get extended time (which truly would benefit any test taker).

Yet there is a much bigger crisis this fall.

As I have visited students across the city in the few days, each and everyone has told me of rampant cheating at every site where he or she took the SAT or ACT. In fact, several sites in southern California delayed releasing scores recently because of suspicion of cheating. The situation was so bad at one school last summer that they offered an August testing for a group of students.

Honest kids suffer in so many ways because of unregulated test sites. They work so hard, and then other kids cheat, reducing the impact of their scores, statistically and psychologically. When the testing agencies hold back test scores, these honest kids get punished a second time because delayed scores can impact their early action or early decision applications.

Here are stories students share with me just in the past two days about the October 11th SAT.

  • Kids took their cellphones into the bathrooms during each of the three breaks and looked up answers to questions, and then went back into the testing room, picked up their same testing form, and changed answers.
  • Kids discussed questions on the test in the hallways during these three breaks and went back and changed their answers.
  • Kids with very previously high test scores took the test again, and allowed students around them to copy their answers.
  • Kids in the back row received text answers from high performing kids also sitting in back rows.
  • Kids used their own calculators, many of which were programmed for certain math equations and problems.

I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I do not blame school sites. I do not blame monitors. I blame the testing organizations for inappropriate rules and guidelines. Here are my recommendations.

  1. Take away or prohibit all cellphones. There is absolutely no need for any testing applicant to have a cellphone. Monitors can collect them at the beginning of the test and return when the test concludes. Or just ban cellphones all together.
  2. Take away testing forms from students and have them start with new ones for each section after breaks. That would prevent any impact from talking about tests in hallways.
  3. Randomly assign students to rooms and do not allow them to decide where to sit. When kids are assigned to a test site, they should receive a number, each desk should be numbered, and seating should be random. That would prevent pre-planned cheating.
  4. Randomly arrange for monitors to move a few students around rooms between sections. If students are moved, then copying will stop, and statistical analyses should be able to identify the cheaters.
  5. Provide calculators. If the College Board and ACT bought calculators and provided them to each test site, then no student could bring in pre-programmed calculators. That would have a side benefit for long-income test takers.

And finally, we need to create an anonymous hotline for students to call in suspected cheating. It is ridiculous that decent, hard-working kids, whose college lives can hang in the balance from test results, must be surrounded by rampant, unregulated cheating.

This needs to stop. It can be stopped. I ask The College Board and ACT to take responsibility for this international crisis. It is in their interests to protect the efficacy of the tests. In today's modern age, they need to have more pro-active testing day practices.