ETS Turns to Third Party To Investigate Test Security

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The nonprofit company that creates and administers the SAT college-entrance exam has commissioned the first comprehensive outside review of its test-security procedures.

Nancy S. Cole, the president of the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service, said last week that the move did not come about because the ETS felt it had lax security.

"Obviously, we think our security is very good, but we're constantly checking," she said. "Conditions change, people learn new ways to cheat. We can never accept the status quo."

Articles in The New York Times last month about cheating on some ETS tests--though not the SAT--were part of the reason the testing service decided to do the review, Ms. Cole said.

In Louisiana this year, apparent cheating by teachers taking a test for administrator certification forced the ETS to give the test again.

Though Ms. Cole asserted that no new information was brought forth in the stories, she said that "when there's general concern about something as [serious as] cheating," the testing service should be open to improving itself.

The investigation, which is expected to take two months, is to cover security "from A to Z," Ms. Cole said, from the drafting of test questions to the administration of the tests.

Oversight Missing?

Bob Schaeffer, the public education director at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, in Cambridge, Mass., said the testing service commissioned the review "because they were hammered on the front page of The New York Times."

"Most of those things were well-known," Mr. Schaeffer said of the articles, "but ETS had not reacted until public scrutiny forced them to."

The problem, argued Mr. Schaeffer, whose watchdog group is a leading critic of the ETS and of most standardized testing, is that there is no public oversight or regulation of the testing business, which handles "very high-level, very crucial gatekeeping" functions.

The results of the ETS investigation, he contended, will have less credibility because the testing service hired the investigators.

Kroll Associates, an investigations company based in New York City, will conduct the security review.

Ms. Cole also said the ETS also has contracted with the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to find out from test-takers about their test experiences and their attitudes toward cheating. Ms. Cole said she did not know the cost of either contract.

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