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Applying to American colleges is increasingly stressful and unfair to those from outside the U.S., says a group of international admissions officials.

Students outside the United States "have been unjustly impacted by the recent test cancellations and limitations, a result of widespread cheating concerns, by both the ACT and College Board," said a statement issued last week by the International Association for College Admission Counseling (a division of the National Association for College Admission Counseling).

The association's counselors help American students and international students enrolled at some of the best secondary schools in many countries, schools whose graduates are highly sought by many American colleges.

The statement calls on testing organizations to provide the same number of opportunities for those inside and outside the United States taking key tests. As an example of current inequities, the statement notes that those taking the SAT last year had eight chances to do so in the United States and only four outside the United States.

Further, the statement notes, testing organizations have canceled some test dates abroad due to test-security issues. In these cases, the statement says, testing agencies have not done a good job of communicating about testing dates that have been called off, and students' opportunities for rescheduling.

As a result, the statement says, those who live in the United States "have an advantage" in admissions over international applicants.

And the statement says that the numerous test dates that are canceled have created "a lack of confidence" in the system. "It has become the norm to expect test cancellations," the statement says, creating extra anxiety for students who need to take the tests to apply to college.

The frustrations of admissions professionals with testing organizations are not new. The international group has previously weighed in, as has NACAC.

But security problems have continued, especially involving Asia, and incidents have in turn led to the cancellation of some test dates and even to criminal charges. Just last month, ACT called off a test date for some locations in Asia over "a verified breach of the test materials," and in August three Chinese students agreed to plead guilty to cheating on the Test of English as a Foreign Language and will likely be deported from the United States.

Xiaomeng Cheng pleaded guilty of conspiring to defraud the U.S. in a federal court in Boston, and plea hearings are set for two additional students, Shikun Zhang and Yue Wang. Prosecutors say that Wang, a student at Hult International Business School, was paid to take the TOEFL for Cheng, who used the fraudulent test score to gain admission to Arizona State University, and Zhang, who used the fraudulent score to gain admission to Northeastern University. The students then obtained visas from the U.S. State Department based on their admission offers.

Pledges From ACT and the College Board

Both ACT and the College Board indicated in statements that they understood the concerns being raised by those in international admissions. But the organizations did not endorse all the measures being sought.

A statement from ACT said that the organization "is committed to providing international students with the opportunity to take the ACT test and remains vigilant in taking all necessary steps to ensure successful standardized administration of the ACT test in the U.S. and around the world. Our progress over the past year includes significant strides to ensure decisions are made in the best interest of all stakeholders while working to ensure a level playing field for all students."

Further, ACT said that "we have made a number of test security enhancements recently, including more secure shipment processes, more on-site audits, enhanced material inspections and web monitoring activities, changes in our network of test centers, new data forensics, and improved security education and training. We are also committed to rapidly advancing and maturing our digital ACT testing, which will be launched in all international test centers in September 2018. ACT appreciates the importance of ongoing communication as we continue to pursue a fair and equitable path forward and introduce new solutions for test administration and security."

The College Board said in a statement that it was "actively engaged" in discussions with the international admissions group on the "critical issue" raised in its statement. The College Board also said it has created an international advisory group to assure that these issues continue to receive attention. And the College Board said that it was working on enhanced security measures that would provide confidence in tests and minimize the need for cancellations.

However, the College Board statement also disputed the idea that international students are unable to get the testing they need to apply to colleges in the United States.

"After we met with IACAC leadership recently at the NACAC conference, we took a closer look at our data for international test takers in order to address some concerns that came up with regard to the impact on students in the graduating class of 2018 as a result of recent test security-enhancing measures," the statement said. "We were pleased to see that the data show international students are taking the SAT at similar rates this year as they have in past years, despite having two fewer administrations available to them. Many international students were wise, planned ahead, and took the SAT before their senior year, allowing themselves multiple opportunities to take the test."

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