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ACT and College Board Tighten Test Security

High-school students will soon have to upload photos of themselves when they register for ACT and SAT exams. The image will be printed on each test taker’s admissions ticket, which will then be checked against the photo IDs they present at testing centers.

The new policy is just one of several “test security” enhancements that ACT Inc. and the College Board announced on Tuesday. The changes arose from last year’s cheating scandal in Nassau County, N.Y., where more than 50 students were found to have either impersonated someone else and taken the ACT or SAT for that person, or paid another student to take the test for them. An investigation of the cheating led by Nassau County’s district attorney, Kathleen M. Rice, led to the arrest of 20 teenagers.

“These reforms close a gaping hole in standardized-test security that allowed students to cheat and steal admissions offers and scholarship money from kids who played by the rules,” Ms. Rice said in a written statement announcing the new policies on Tuesday.

Among other changes, students’ uploaded photos will reside on a database available to college admissions officers and high-school officials. All students will also be required to identify their high school when they register, so as to ensure that high-school administrators receive students’ scores along with their uploaded photos. Before taking the exams, test takers will be asked to “certify their identity” in writing, and they will be told that impersonating another student could result in criminal prosecution.

Robert A. Schaeffer, public-education director at FairTest, a testing watchdog group, believes the new procedures will make impersonating another student much more difficult, if not impossible. “Using a digitized photo closes the barn door,” he said, “now that the horse has left the barn.”

Yet Mr. Schaeffer also noted that impersonation is but one form of cheating. And it’s apparently not the most common way in which students cheat on standardized tests.

Last October, officials at the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, testified at a state Senate hearing in New York that about 3,000 test scores—out of some two million exams taken—were canceled each year, either because of irregularities reported by test-center supervisors, or because of large score jumps from previous tests, according to The New York Times. Yet impersonations accounted for only about 150 of those cases, according to an ETS official quoted in the article.

Most cheating, Mr. Schaeffer said, involves collaboration among test takers during the exam, or the age-old phenomenon of roaming eyeballs. In other words, it’s surely a lot easier to standardize an exam and tighten test-registration procedures than it is to control what happens once students pick up their pencils.

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