College & Workforce Readiness

Citing Security, College Board Transfers March SAT-Takers to May

By Catherine Gewertz — March 01, 2016 2 min read
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UPDATED Less than a week before the redesigned SAT makes its March 5 debut, the College Board has removed some test-takers from that day’s testing pool, and transferred them to the May 7 date for “security” reasons.

The unprecedented move was announced in an email sent Monday to those who are being transferred. College Board spokesman Kate Levin said it is designed to weed out people “who may be in the business of wanting to compromise test content.” Less than 1 percent of those registered for the March 5 date were transferred, she said, but she could not immediately provide the number of people registered for that date.

When registration closed for the March 5 date, the College Board detected “an unusually high number of individuals” who meet criteria that suggest that they’re taking the test for some reason other than for use in getting financial aid or scholarships, or applying to college, Levin said. Those factors focus primarily on how often, and when, someone has taken the test. It’s a warning sign when someone has taken the SAT in recent, frequent clusters, she said.

That pattern flags a possible “security risk,” so the College Board moved those people to the May 7 date because it uses “a disclosed form,” meaning that the test will be made public after it’s given. The College Board allows users to get acquainted with the test this way, through its online question-and-answer feature.

But the March 5 SAT—the first administration of the newly designed test—will not use “a disclosed form,” so the College Board has been keeping a particularly close eye on any sign of possible cheating behavior that could compromise the test.

One source in the college-advising community said that he had heard that a spike in registrations had raised suspicions at the College Board that some test takers could be associated with test prep organizations, among others.

On the listserv run by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, test-prep tutors exchanged suspicions that they were the ones being booted from the test.

“I am one of the probably 1000+ test prep people who have been booted from the upcoming SAT on Saturday,” said one listserv member.

“From my eye, [the College Board’s move] is designed to keep test-prep tutors (as I am) from taking the test,” said another listserv member, Ned Johnson, the president of PrepMatters, based in Bethesda, Md.

In an interview, Johnson surmised that the College Board might be worried that test-prep companies are assembling “armies” of tutors to take the new SAT and copy down answers.

But he said it’s “pretty standard practice” for test-prep tutors to take the SAT, ACT, and other college exams so they’re better equipped to advise their students. Johnson estimates that since 1996, he’s taken the SAT or its subject-matter tests three dozen times.

Officials of FairTest, who oppose high-stakes standardized testing, theorized that the College Board might be trying to protect its new SAT from criticism, especially in the wake of problems such as the scoring error on the June 2015 SAT, delays in PSAT scores, and other glitches.

“One plausible explanation [for the transfer of students] is that they fear experts will discover flaws in the new exam that regular test-takers might not notice,” the group’s public education director, Bob Schaeffer, said in an email.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.