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SAT and ACT to Tighten Rules After Cheating Scandal

SAT and ACT to Tighten Rules After Cheating Scandal

Stung by a cheating scandal involving dozens of Long Island high school students, the SAT and ACT college entrance exams will now require students to provide a photograph when they sign up for the exams, and officials will check those images against the identification the students present when they take the test.

The new rules were part of a broad set of changes announced on Tuesday in the aftermath of the cheating cases, in which high-scoring students used fake IDs to take the SAT or ACT for other students. The revelations had proved embarrassing for the testing services, on which virtually every American college relies in making admissions decisions.

The changes will be applied nationwide, and will take effect in the fall, said Kathleen M. Rice, the district attorney in Nassau County. Her office charged 20 teenagers from five high schools last fall; 5 of the students were accused of taking tests for others and 15 were accused of paying them $500 to $3,600 to take the tests. Ms. Rice said up to 50 students might have been involved.

The changes, Ms. Rice said, send a message to students who might consider cheating. “They will be caught, and they will be held accountable,” she said. “The old system did not ensure that.”

The photograph that students will be required to upload, or mail in, will be printed on their admission tickets and the roster at the test center. That will allow test proctors to compare the photo with the identification presented on test day, as well as with the student’s actual face.

Ms. Rice, who worked on the new measures with security consultants for the testing companies, also said colleges would receive students’ photos when they got their scores. But after questions were raised on Tuesday about whether the photos could unduly sway the admissions process, her office said it would reconsider the requirement.

Over all, principals and superintendents welcomed the new measures, many of which they said they had advocated for more than a decade. But no one vowed that the new system would be failproof, given the pressure that the nation’s college admission process places on students and parents, and the willingness of some of them to pay for results.

In another important change, test-takers will be required to identify their high school, which will now receive their scores. Previously, it was up to students to decide whether their scores were sent to their high schools. That made it difficult for schools to detect suspicious scores, especially if impersonators, as in the Nassau County cases, took the test far from home where no one recognized that they were not the student on the ID.

Now, the schools will receive a photo of the student who took the test — and the score. “We will get Johnny Jones’s SAT scores with a picture,” said Henry L. Grishman, superintendent of schools in Jericho, on Long Island. “That will add security to the process.”

Students will also have to provide their gender and birth date. Officials said one of the five teenagers arrested as a test-taker, Samuel Eshaghoff, a 2010 graduate of Great Neck North High School, had taken tests for girls with gender-neutral names — including his girlfriend — and had shown fake identification. Mr. Eshaghoff has reached a plea deal with prosecutors, but the details are sealed.

The testing services will also eliminate standby test registration, in which students can register the day they take the exam. “Students not appearing on the roster” at a test center or who do not present sufficient identification, Ms. Rice said, “will not be allowed to sit for the exam.” Students will also have to certify their identity in writing at the test center and acknowledge the possibility of prosecution for impersonation.

Some school officials said large high schools with small guidance staffs would be hard pressed to check all the photos and scores. But most welcomed the changes. “They give us the tools to monitor what kids are doing on these high-stakes tests,” said Bernard Kaplan, the principal at Great Neck North, which discovered the widespread cheating and turned it over to Ms. Rice’s office.

Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, a nonprofit organization that supports better forms of assessment, said that the changes “should go a long way in eliminating impersonation” but that they did “nothing about the more significant and widespread problem of collaboration inside the test center or simply copying.”

Kathleen Steinberg, executive director for communications at the College Board, said roughly two million tests were taken last year, of which 3,000 scores were questioned and 1,000 canceled. An additional 750 students were dismissed from taking the test for various infractions, like having cellphones in the test center.

Ms. Steinberg said Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, spent $21 million on security in 2010-11. She said she did not know how much the additional measures would cost the company. She and Mr. Gomer of ACT Inc. said there would be no impact on the cost to students. The ACT now costs $34, or $49.50 with the writing component; the SAT costs $49.

One of Ms. Rice’s announced changes, that colleges would receive student photos when they received their scores, drew some concern.

Will Cardamone, the director of college counseling atManlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt, N.Y., and a former admissions official at Hamilton College, noted that students have the option of not disclosing their race or ethnicity on a college application. A photograph, on the other hand, is a “stark” identifier that effectively eliminates this option, he said.

Terry Giffen, the director of college counseling at the Taft School in Watertown, Conn., said: “I do fear that it could be a quick and easy way to make decisions based on looks. With a picture there, I think it opens a Pandora’s box. I see it as a way of using race in admissions.”

After Ms. Rice’s announcement, Scott Gomer, a spokesman for ACT Inc., said it was focused on getting photos to high schools. “Our plan doesn’t have the college photo option,” he said. And Kathleen Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the College Board, which oversees the SAT, said it would not automatically send photos with each score but would make them accessible in a database.

Later Tuesday, John Byrne, a spokesman for Ms. Rice, said she was “sensitive to concerns about discrimination in the admissions process and defers to the experts at the testing companies regarding college access to photo databases.”

Joseph Katz, a senior at Great Neck North who is headed to SUNY Binghamton, said a student could still cheat by uploading an impersonator’s photo as if it were his own, and using a fake ID. But the post-test measures could make it tougher to get away with it. “With the sending of the pictures, that’s when they are going to start catching people,” he said.

Mr. Kaplan, the Great Neck North principal, noted the irony that Mr. Eshaghoff could now take credit for making the ACT and SAT a more honest test. “He brought to the fore a real problem in high-stakes testing,” Mr. Kaplan said.