Just hours before it was scheduled to be administered in June, the ACT college admission test was canceled in South Korea and Hong Kong.
Approximately 5,500 international students were turned away from testing centers after ACT Inc. announced that it had received credible evidence that test materials in these regions had been leaked in advance, thus compromising the integrity of the exams.
The event is the latest in a string of security issues that have plagued international standardized testing for admission to U.S. colleges over the past few years.
Technology has made it easier to record and share questions, especially when tests are repeated. There are also numerous services that try to gain access to exams ahead of time and sell the answers.
Consequently, SAT test dates have been cancelled in China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau and Bahrain, among other places, as cheating becomes more widespread.
“Cheating is like an iceberg—you don’t know what percentage is visible above water,” says Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
The nonprofit organization, also known as FairTest, works to raise awareness of the flaws of standardized tests. “In many countries, an American college degree, even one that isn’t from a high-end school, is viewed as a passport to riches and success,” Schaeffer says.
U.S. admission offices are changing assessment tools accordingly. Many are moving away from test scores, choosing instead to determine English proficiency in other ways, such as by having independent companies record candidate interviews.
Others are relying more on evaluations of a student’s entire academic career, although there have also been cases of those records being falsified, Schaeffer says.
Despite the recent cancellations, efforts to gain an improper advantage on standardized tests do not appear to be abating.
“There’s no downside risk,” says Schaeffer. “When students are caught cheating on the SAT or ACT, all that happens is that the score is cancelled. All the test company says, per the signed agreement, is that they don’t believe a score is legitimate and will not release it. But the school applied to has no way to know that a student even tried to take that test.”