Calling the Testing Companies

Admissions group says counselors and students need more guidance and better communication on security issues -- at home and abroad.

June 1, 2017

The National Association for College Admission Counseling last year issued a statement to the testing industry, calling for reforms that would address security and other issues in admissions testing.

The association issued another statement last month, largely the same as last year's, saying that guidance counselors, colleges and applicants still are waiting on much of what they sought a year ago. The statement says testing companies have made progress in the last year, but the international testing environment has continued to evolve, creating more issues for those involved in college admissions.

"The short-notice cancellation of a scheduled test administration and limiting test dates are two such examples," the statement said (those are actions taken by the College Board and other testing agencies as reports have emerged of cheating -- or plans to cheat -- on the SAT, the ACT and other high-stakes tests given in Asia). "More work must be done to ensure the fairness within the testing environment and integrity of test results domestically and internationally."

The NACAC statement calls for testing companies to:

  • "Recognize that while the reuse of entire standardized test forms or test questions is a long-standing practice, the proliferation of modern communications technology today has rendered it vulnerable to easy exploitation."
  • "Provide abundant, immediate and proactive communication with students and families, secondary school counselors and the higher education community when problems arise."
  • "Significantly update and enhance education and training about test administration and security for all personnel, including college counselors and test supervisors, at all testing sites, domestically and internationally."
  • "Collaborate with secondary and postsecondary education stakeholders to promote better understanding of the role of culture in determining what constitutes cheating, the individual and social consequences of cheating, and the pedagogical reasons why cheating is deemed unacceptable in the United States."
  • "Recognize that situations that arise outside of the United States have direct implications domestically, and act accordingly."

The restated request for more action by testing companies comes at a time of great concern by many high school counselors and college admissions officers about cheating on standardized tests. While much of the cheating involves international students, that doesn't mean it's not taking place in the United States.

This month, federal authorities announced the arrests of four Chinese nationals on charges of engaging in fraud on admissions tests that allowed three of them to obtain admissions to American universities and visas to study in the United States. A Justice Department announcement said that one of the four, a student at the Hult International Business School, in Massachusetts, took the TOEFL exam and reported her scores as if they were the scores of the three others.

TOEFL is among the tests taken by international students to demonstrate sufficient English language proficiency to succeed at American colleges. Based on those TOEFL scores, the Justice Department said, the other three were admitted to Arizona State University, Northeastern University and Pennsylvania State University's Erie campus. Then the three were able to get student visas.

Articles by Reuters over the last year have raised concerns about cheating on standardized testing in general, but with a focus on vulnerabilities to test security in Asia.

Lindsay Addington, associate director of international initiatives at NACAC, said that all of the incidents highlight a need for better education and communication on a range of issues.

When there isn't good communication, and then there are difficulties giving standardized tests abroad or schedules are changed suddenly, guidance counselors are left to explain shifts that no one told them about.

She said she was particularly concerned about security measures that "create silos between what happens in the U.S. and what happens outside the U.S."

The recent arrests of the Chinese students show that these issues are taking place in the United States, she said. Further, with more international students enrolling in American private high schools, the reality is that there can be instant communication between the United States and the rest of the world about test questions.

Officials of testing companies said that they share the concerns expressed in the NACAC statement and are committed to working with admissions professionals on these issues.

A statement from the College Board said, "The issues NACAC raises in its statement are ones that the College Board has focused on for some time. In consultation with NACAC and our members, we have taken new, bold actions to enhance the security of the SAT and will build on these efforts. We are reaching out to NACAC and look forward to continuing our work together on these critical issues, as we have in the past."

A statement from the Educational Testing Service said, "ETS has long been at the forefront of combating test security concerns. Our strategy is a three-pronged approach of prevention, detection and communication, which is designed to protect the integrity of test scores. In all three of these aspects, ETS continues to innovate, recognizing that the security challenges and environment are constantly changing. This starts with our efforts to continually evolve our overall security systems and test delivery processes.

"In addition, the ETS Office of Testing Integrity constantly monitors testing, investigates security issues and strives to ensure score validity worldwide, maintaining our long-standing commitment to reliable and secure test scores. We will continue to collaborate with institutions and agencies around the world who rely on our test scores to make important admissions decisions."



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