Students Sue Over Canceled SAT Scores

Egyptian students challenge cancellation of their SAT scores for test security reasons, saying they were not given evidence or opportunity to appeal. College Board says evidence was "overwhelming."

July 22, 2019
 

A group of about 50 Egyptian students whose May 4 SAT scores were canceled for test security-related reasons has filed suit in federal court seeking to compel College Board to release their scores. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield denied the students’ motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and asked the plaintiffs to file a letter by today indicating whether they will consent to arbitration.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Yasser Helal, said he will not consent to arbitration in part because he does not believe the option is available for the students to contest their score cancellations. The SAT’s terms and conditions say that arbitration over the issue of invalid scores is an available option only for tests administered in the U.S. and U.S. territories.

“We’re pleased the judge rejected the plaintiff’s motion,” Zachary Goldberg, a spokesman for the College Board, which owns the SAT, said via email.

Goldberg added that the organization “shared directly with the students’ representative the overwhelming evidence that led us to cancel their May SAT scores.”

According to a copy of the complaint provided by the students' lawyer, the students who are suing all received an email (pictured above) saying that their May 4 scores were among those canceled “when we determined a violation of our test security policies.”

"Due to the egregiously and intolerably vague email notification by the defendant, of its score cancellation, the plaintiffs were prevented from confronting defendant on its claims against them," the complaint states.

"Defendant, in bad faith, is implying that plaintiffs are 'cheating', and is making a grave decision that would affect their lives and cause them (and their families) significant economic losses, severe emotional distress, without identifying any violations, or tying them to any wrongdoings," it continues.

The complaint claims that the students -- who were among hundreds of Egyptian test takers to receive the email -- were given no “factual basis” or evidence for the determination and were not granted an opportunity to appeal it.

Helal, the lawyer for the students, said that while a lawyer for the College Board verbally presented him with its "findings" in regard to five of the students, "I was shown no evidences whatsoever (testing material, answer sheets, booklets, etc.)"

The students' complaint cites the “invalid scores” section of the SAT terms and conditions -- which states that students will have the opportunity before the cancellation of scores to contest the decision -- in making the argument that the College Board did not follow its own policies in this case. According to the terms and conditions document, "evidence of invalid scores may include, without limitation, plagiarism, discrepant handwriting, unusual answer patterns, text similar to that in other essays, paraphrasing of text from published sources, and essays that aren’t independent compositions."

But another provision of the terms and conditions document, a section on "testing irregularities" -- defined as including, but not limited to, "evidence of possible preknowledge of secure test content" -- appears to give the College Board leeway to cancel scores in certain circumstances without granting students recourse to challenge that decision. That section states, “When testing irregularities occur, we may cancel an administration or individual registrations, decline to score all or part of the test, or cancel the test score. We may do this whether or not the affected students caused the testing irregularities, benefited from them, or engaged in misconduct. We are solely responsible for determining whether testing irregularities have occurred, and our decisions are final. When appropriate, we give affected test takers the opportunity to take the test again within a reasonable timeframe, without charge. This is the sole remedy available to test takers as a result of testing irregularities.”

The terms and conditions document also states that "if at any time before, during, or after a review of questionable scores we find that test misconduct has occurred, we may treat the matter under our misconduct procedures; in that case, the options just described under this Invalid Scores section or in the Testing Irregularities section, as applicable, will not be available, even if those options were previously offered. We have sole discretion in determining whether to treat potential testing violation under this section or the 'Misconduct' section above."

Helal said the College Board did not say in its email canceling the scores what its reasons were, leaving the test takers wondering “what violation he or she committed, if any … I am assuming that there were no 'irregularities' because the Board did not mention this specific word in its email, so they cannot come now and raise it. My assumption that this [is] an individual 'Invalid Score' case, and the [College Board] has no arbitration offered for international students in this case.”

The College Board has been bedeviled by problems related to test security and fraud in its international test administrations. It has canceled numerous international test administrations for this reason, including the March administration of the SAT in Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

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