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Former College Board SAT Designer Drawn Into FBI Probe

By Catherine Gewertz — September 13, 2016 1 min read
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A former College Board official who had a lead role in designing the new SAT—and then became an ardent critic of the process—has become part of an FBI investigation into possible security breaches in the college-entrance exam. Documents outlining his role appear to have been put under court seal.

Manuel Alfaro, who was the executive director of assessment design and development at the College Board when he was fired in February 2015, wrote in a post on his LinkedIn account on Aug. 27 that the FBI searched his Maryland home the previous day and seized computer equipment. The search came after months of public accusations by Alfaro on LinkedIn and Twitter that the College Board skipped important steps in the process in developing items for the new SAT, resulting in a test that was not up to industry standards. The College Board has strongly denied Alfaro’s claims, calling them “baseless.”

The news agency Reuters reported that the FBI raid was part of an investigation into computer intrusion and theft against an unidentified “victim corporation” involving “confidential or proprietary information,” including tests, test forms, and internal emails. In a story published Aug. 3, Reuters revealed that it had obtained about 400 unpublished questions from the newly redesigned SAT. Reuters said it got the items from “a person with access to material for upcoming versions of the redesigned exam.”

Alfaro’s central argument is that the College Board often skipped an important part of the test design: review by an external panel at two key points in the process. Alfaro says that sometimes items weren’t reviewed by the external panel until they were already assembled into final test forms.

He also argues that the College Board is misrepresenting its test to seven states that use it as their federally required accountability test when it claims that it designed the exam according to industry standards and its own publicly stated process.

College Board spokesman Zach Goldberg told Reuters after the FBI search at Alfaro’s home that the College Board is “pleased that this crime is being pursued aggressively.”

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