SAT and TOEFL Breached
Just the other day, news agency Thompson Reuters, posted an article about SAT and how College Board knowingly recycled tests in China and that, despite increased security measures, even the new Revised SAT will be compromised. Last year, the Chinese version of Newsweek, posted an article about how a reporter was able to purchase online a mechanism that held answers to the TOEFL test. ETS has amazing security, from voice recognition to using students’ photos to identify the test taker.
When the Reuters article broke there was a immediate backlash from counselors around China. Personally, I stated that I was both disgusted and disheartened by the news. Even though I have known of the “breaches” and lived through the anxiety with my students over cancelled tests and delayed scores, this news, while not truly new, reaffirmed my conviction that testing on the level of SAT, TOEFL, and even SSAT is no longer truly valid.
No Longer A Level Field
To what extent does the leaked information go? Who really knows, but the reality is that the information is available to any student, whether they know it or not, if they are engaged in test preparation. Granted this is a generalization, and certainly not all test takers are “cheaters.” But the facts, as pointed out in the article, are that testing is compromised. If we go on that premise, what is the real value of standardized testing? Even if a majority of the test takers in Asia do not use errant methods, how can one truly ascertain the validity of their tests when put up against those who did use illicit means?
In my day-to-day work, I have students who have avoided test prep, and yet when compared to their applicant pool in the admission process they come out wanting. Their scores are not competitive and so they lose out in one way or another. But even still, students who may have come across real test material during their preparation are less competitive compared to those who used more aggressive prep providers.
What is further infuriating is whether a school, reading the application, is aware on any level of the unbalanced tests scores they are using. For a minute, lets assume they have no idea, and they are looking at scores without bias. Certainly with students presenting promising scores combined with grades and other materials, admission committees are accepting at face value what they see. Is that fair? Perhaps one could argue that given holistic review, one could say “sure”, but not really.
If admission committees accept that scores are skewed, to what extent do they count scores in the admission process? Do they down grade overall test scores? Subtract a percentage? To what extent is that fair?
Members of the school counseling arena have been decrying the testing environment in Asia for quite some time. Yet, universities and other schools continue to use testing as a factor in admission. Knowingly or not, they are complicit in the high stakes pursuit of “talented” youth. From ranking to accepting tainted scores, everyone marches on as if there is nothing to really do about it. Universities accept College Board and ETS practices, continue to use test scores in the admission process. High schools continue to administer the tests, hoping that students have not gained an unfair advantage in one way or another, all the while hoping that their students will score to gain entry to more selective schools. And the wheel goes around and around, year by year.
My question is this – when will everyone agree that this is not that answer? When will all the stakeholders say enough is enough? High schools are at the mercy of a broken system, yet those with the ability to make change – those on the receiving end of applications – continue to proceed as if nothing is wrong. Or if is wrong, make little effort to change. And, by the way it is not just an Asian problem. The system is broken, and no one seems capable of finding an appropriate fix to solve it.
We can all agree that the admission process is unfair, especially for highly selective schools. Counselors, parents and students, particularly this time of the year cry about how they did not get into their “dream” school with amazing resumes and materials to back up their applications. But if the system is broken from a fundamental level, and we all know it, why do we continue to rant and rave when it does not work in “our students” favor? Blind faith?
Coming this April is the new Coalition application, which is supposed to change the playing field. Yet, I know of no counselor who has any idea what the application looks like or how the application will work. The Coalition has been particularly mute on the subject. But what will really change? It seems as if there is now just another thing to worry about, another system to game, continuing the inequality of the application system.
Elite schools will not change to become more inclusive. Why? They cannot accept all the qualified students who apply, even if the system did not have its major flaws. Yet, overall, until those who control the admission process take a stand and create true change, we will all continue to bemoan the system, roll our eyes, and march forward, hoping that one day it will change.
Real change will happen when ranking disappears and other means of evaluating students come into play – like performance on AP, IB, A Level and other measures of student ability that have true meaning, even interviewing students through processes like IntialView and Vericant. Schools should be applauded that have changed their admission criteria by becoming test optional or schools like NYU that have multiple entry criteria. Schools that are willing to go against the grain of a process and lead, not accept status quo.
Break free and lead! Bring some sanity back to the admission process. Please!