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SAT Reforms May Have Negative Impact on Students, Counselors Say

March 27, 2012, 6:44 PM

SAT Reforms May Have Negative Impact on Students, Counselors Say


Students who take the SAT and ACT will soon be required to upload photos of themselves when they register for the college entrance exams, our colleagues report.

The change was one of several announced Tuesday in the aftermath of the cheating cases, in which high-scoring students used fake IDs to take SATs or ACTs for other students. Twenty teenagers from five schools in Nassau County were arrested last fall, five of them suspected of taking tests for others and the other 15 accused of paying them $500 to $3,600 to take the tests.

The new rules apply nationwide, and the Nassau County district attorney, Kathleen M. Rice, said in a statement that they would take effect in the fall. Ms. Rice said a goal of the new requirements was to close the gaps in test security that had allowed students to impersonate other students. The photograph that students will be required to upload will be printed on their admission ticket and the roster at the test center. The statement said the uploaded photos would be retained in a database that high school and college admissions officials can look at.

Under another new requirement, test registrants will have to provide their gender. Officials said last year that one of the five teenagers arrested as a test-taker, Samuel Eshaghoff, a 2011 graduate of Great Neck North High School, was said to have taken tests for girls and had shown fake identification.

College counselors, while appreciative that test officials are seeking enhanced security measures, were apprehensive about the methodology. Some counselors worry that giving admissions officers access to photographs could put some students at a disadvantage while failing to prevent cheating among test-takers.

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

Will Cardamone, the director of college counseling at Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt, N.Y., said students might be willing to include their photographs to ensure the legitimacy of their test scores, but not without reservation.

“I do think, in the Facebook age, kids are particularly sensitive to their privacy rights online,” Mr. Cardamone said. “I just don’t think that a student’s physical appearance should have anything to do with the college admissions process.” He added: “I shudder to think that it would.”

Requiring schools to verify students’ photographs would cost the schools more time, money and staff members to administer the exams, college counselors said. The extra steps, presumably imposed on proctors, would make a long, stressful test day on a Saturday morning more cumbersome. Mr. Giffen questioned how students in impoverished schools would fare under the new security requirements, which might raise registration fees to cover the costs.

“We talk about equity and access, yet we make it very difficult for kids” to access the college entrance exams, Mr. Giffen said. “I’m concerned about how we’re helping kids, I’m concerned about the workload on students, and I’m concerned about equity.”