The SAT is Corrupt: Reuters Version

Dear Renee Dudley, Steve Stecklow, Alexandra Harney and Irene Jay Liu,

As someone who has studied and written extensively about the SAT corruption and the fraud delivery system known as Asian test prep , I congratulate you on the thorough job exposing the College Board’s open courting of corruption for profit in the overseas SAT market.

I’m not a reporter, just a teacher who does pretty good research, but for what it’s worth I think you did an outstanding job on many aspects of the story. I offer these suggestions (and one correction) with some disagreement, but little criticism (and lord knows, I can criticize).

The College Board Was Aware Long Before 2013
Your article strongly suggests time and again that the College Board learned that Asian test prep companies had obtained the tests by May 2013. In fact, the College Board knew that the test had been corrupted by January 2007, when it cancelled the scores of all 900 South Korean testers. It was common knowledge at the time that the College Board recycled old tests. The AP story doesn’t mention hagwons, and shows a touching faith in the CB’s assurance that kids couldn’t possibly benefit from seeing the test again. However, the College Confidential forums were very clear that the source of the test was a hagwon, not some “accidental exposure”. I worked for Kaplan and a major US hagwon at the time (only taught SAT at Kaplan) and my hagwon boss told me all about the methods Korean test prep companies used to get the “held back” tests.

So the College Board has known for at least nine years and probably longer that Asian international testers were cheating.

More Context on Cheaters

Your reporting begins with Xingyuan Ding, a Chinese national now attending ULA, who scored an 800 on the SAT Critical Reading section. Ding claims that “about half” of the answers on the reading section were in his “jijing”, or answer key.

That’s highly unlikely. While I understand the need for objectivity, some context would be useful. An 800 on the reading section is a 99th percentile score, meaning 99% of the testers receive a lower score. Even among Asians, it’s a 98th percentile score. So how likely is it that a Chinese national got that score?

Your reporting also mentions Linfeng Liu, another Chinese student who tested in Hong Kong, who says that she was “helped” by recognizing five—just five!—vocabulary questions, which enabled her, she said, to focus more on reading comprehension. Her overall score isn’t mentioned, but again, how likely is it that she cheated “just a little bit”?

Information that would have helped give context. Were these interviews conducted in Chinese or in English? How fluent was Ding, the 800 SAT critical reading guy, in English? How were these students doing in their classes?

Another related issue: In your FAQ, you mention repeatedly that just seeing the questions, not the answers, would still constitute a major advantage. That’s true. However, the story gives the impression that seeing the questions provides the primary, even sole, advantage to the students. This is almost certainly not true, and while that statement may be too strong, I think you tilt too far the other way. These are Chinese and Korean nationals with very weak English. A preview of the reading passages isn’t going to give them a big advantage. The answers do. Whether they’ve memorized long sequences or just have them handily tucked into a cell phone, the Chinese kids you interviewed almost certainly had the answers.

Cheating: It’s Not Just In China Anymore
Your reporting revealed that Asian test prep companies sent employees over here:

Sanli, the Chinese test-prep chain, says it sent 11 teachers to the United States to collect information on the redesigned exam. They debriefed 40 Sanli students studying at U.S. high schools who took the new SAT as they exited test centers, according to Wu, the general manager. Sanli presented its findings at a seminar at a Shanghai hotel.

(emphasis mine)

Heavens, that’s interesting. I did not know this. So are these Sanli students “Asian Americans”–born here, or immigrant children of long-time residents–or are they “Asian nationals” over here on F1 visas? As you probably know, Chinese students are flooding US public high schools whenever they can and US Christian private high schools when they can’t (due to the 1-year restriction), with our Beijing embassy eagerly courting more. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of F1 high school visas grew from 1,700 to 80,000, the vast majority of them Chinese or South Korean.

So when you report that Asian test prep companies are using “their” students to gain SAT knowledge to enable cheating, are they F-1 students on visas? Or are they Asian Americans who enroll with these test prep companies?

Of course, the College Board is not reusing national tests–at least, not often—which raises another question: what advantages do the Asian test prep companies offer Asians living in the US?

Your story hints at possibilities here:

Eight of the 10 existing Mathematics Level II subject tests were compromised – three in their entirety and five in part, including two exams that had never been given anywhere, the PowerPoint shows. Ten of the 13 Biology exams were also compromised in whole or in part, including one totally new test.

I’ve written on this before as well; Asian test prep companies have certainly used corrupt school administrators to gain early access to tests.

So the story probably goes beyond the international cheating–as if that’s not enough. It’s pretty clear that Asian test prep companies are getting early versions of tests. Given the College Board’s lax procedures, the leak may be from within the company.

What About the ACT?

You mention that the SAT dominates in the international market; my own research confirms that the ACT’s international presence is minimal. My understanding is that the SAT only recycles tests for the international sitting.

So what does the ACT do? Does the ACT recycle tests? What is the relative size of the two markets? If the SAT is the only test with a significant international presence, could it possibly be due to the fact that international testers have access to early copies? The overwhelming bulk of international testers are Asian or Middle Eastern, all countries with culture of cheating that Americans can barely comprehend.

Or perhaps there’s another explanation. But getting the ACT’s procedure would be a useful comparison point. Your story acknowledges the fact that ACT is the national leader, but apparently SAT’s touchstone status causes reporters to forget that and ignore the market king’s methods. (OK, that was a tad snarky.)

David Coleman Stonewalls

You know how reporters say [so and so] refused repeated requests to comment? You apparently only asked David Coleman to comment once.

David Coleman is a celebrity in the world of education reform. He is celebrated, rightly or wrongly, for Common Core standards. He took over the helm at the College Board in 2012–that fact alone should be mentioned, should it not? Presumably he was present, along with other “senior College Board staff” at the meeting with the Power Point slides in June 2013.

It’s not really your fault. But it’s over a day since your story came out, and not a peep from the College Board, much less Coleman. Couldn’t you have at least said “repeated requests”? Or did you only ask once?

National Interests

But like all reported stories I’ve seen on Asian cheating of the SAT, there’s no connection to the larger interests involved.

As your story mentions, many public and private universities are recruiting foreign students who are mostly from China and South Korea, even though the students are cheating on applications and tests, lying about their grades and resumes. Keep in mind that universities get tax breaks and other federal funding and public universities were chartered to serve the educational needs of their states.

Meanwhile, the SAT is moving outside its old beat as a college admissions test into a high school graduation test. Several states have committed use the SAT as a graduation requirement. Several states have switched from the ACT, which focuses on American students, to the SAT, which manifestly does not.

This isn’t just an issue for worried parents of college applicants. The College Board encourages and benefits from international criminal racketeering organizations that engage in immigration and mail fraud while enabling colleges to pretend they are accepting qualified applicants when in fact the colleges know full well their applicants lied. It collects money from multiple state contracts for a test product they can’t be bothered to spend money protecting from those organized criminal enterprises. State and private universities knowingly consume a fraudulent information product in order to fatten their coffers, all the while benefiting from tax-exempt status at both the federal and state interest.

Should the College Board be allowed to sell state contracts given its knowing participation in organized crime? Should our tax dollars be spent on universities if they are no longer acting in the public interest? Reasonable people can undoubtedly disagree on these questions. But surely they should at least be raised.

I want to emphasize again how pleased I am at your story and that while I had the above quibbles, overall it really was an excellent, thoroughly reported piece. I hope Reuters pushes it harder; you guys should be on TV, talking about this. Feel free to use my “national interest” take when you’re on the air.

All the best,


About educationrealist

21 responses to “The SAT is Corrupt: Reuters Version

  • anonymousskimmer

    ” Several states have committed to use the SAT as a high school exit examination.”

    Now this is just absurd. I hope, hope, that they’re using various of the subject tests as well as the main test.

    There go all of the average (IQ 100) students who otherwise would have graduated. Or there go all of the slightly gifted 7th graders – straight to college.

    Two nitpicks, because I’m too shocked to address the gestalt.

    • educationrealist

      No, they’re just using the test. However, I don’t know if they’ll have a cut score or if it will just be required to take it. I agree with your concern. The test is too difficult.

      • Triumph104

        You said: “Several states have committed to use the SAT as a high school exit examination.” The post I replied to included the quote. Check before bothering people.

        While the terms “graduation exam” and “exit exam” make perfect sense to you, they are confusing to your readers who think that students can’t graduate until they get a passing grade on the exam, because that is what those terms mean in their state.

        The SAT will be used as a high school “assessment” exam and won’t affect anyone’s ability to graduate.

      • educationrealist

        First, you’re a total prick. Be nicer or I’ll stop accepting your comments. I hate condescending jackasses.

        Second, I didn’t realize that was a quote from my piece, and you’re correct. If you notice, I put graduation requirement the first time. I agree that “exit exam” is misleading, and didn’t realized I’d used it. I’ve fixed it. I’m well aware of all the things you pointed out. Probably more aware than you are.

        Now, piss off.

      • Triumph104


      • anonymousskimmer

        “The SAT will be used as a high school “assessment” exam and won’t affect anyone’s ability to graduate.”

        Even this is nonsensical since it is in no way formatted to do anything of the sort. It can test exactly three things which are taught in schools: Some understanding of English syntax and vocabulary, and some understanding of certain maths. The writing portion is too time and prompt limited to test anything but the student’s facileness and reflexive buy-in of the artificial yet easy to grade 1-3-1 format.

        I presume it does these three things well, except the vocabulary which can realistically only be crammed for (I doubt any school other than a test prep school teaches word-part origins and meaning deduction).

        They ignore the entire rest of the curriculum for 25-34% of a typical student’s workload.

        They also replace a curriculum assessment test which students are unlikely to game (unless led by teachers) with a test that many students are highly encouraged to game, or at least extracurricularly study for.

        They’ve impacted those students who already have taken the exam and may be applying to colleges which require that all testings be reported.

        And heck, if you really need it as an exit assessment exam, why not the PSAT? The only rationale you’ve given me is that it would be a free giveaway to students.

        Anecdotally: Mid-1990s I did better on the SAT Verbal and Math as a percentile and equivalency table than I did on the ACT English and Math. From personal analysis I also believe I remembered less of what was explicitly taught, getting by more on inductive reasoning, a love of Discover magazine and a voracious reading appetite. I’ve heard the SAT Math is supposed to have changed to be closer to ACT Math (though I may be misremembering). But anecdotally it still seems that the ACT English and Math tests would be better assessments of what was explicitly learned and retained than the SAT. College confidential seems to support this:

    • Triumph104

      It is not an exit exam. That term should not have been used. Most educators see their low-income students as dysfunctional and unable to figure out how to schedule and take a Saturday SAT exam, yet paradoxically college material. So now it is possible in some states to take the SAT for free during regular class time.

      The individual state departments of education may use the test to tweak their curriculum since the SAT is common core based, but that will have zero effect on anyone graduating.

      States are being pressured to increase their graduation rates so more and more are eliminating exit exams altogether. Four states got rid of high school exit exams just last year including California.

      The thought of all high schoolers taking an SAT Subject Test is hysterical. No, that will never, ever happen. Elite colleges like Harvard and Stanford don’t even require SAT Subject Tests, only suggest, because that would not produce a “diverse” student body.

  • James Thompson

    The scale of this deception is alarming. It makes me wonder how many psychometric tests are compromised, although security ought to be tighter, and as far as I know the written forms for answers are carefully controlled, and the manual, even harder to get hold of but not impossible, contains most of the answers.

  • Portlander

    “Feel free to use my “national interest” take when you’re on the air.”

    +1. Taxpayers and parents alike shovel money at the College Board like they are the NFL. (ahem) That it is being game for profit by extra-nationals and a connected set of insiders… well, OK that describes better than half the economy nowadays, but it doesn’t make it any less an outrage to those of us that bother to notice.

  • Roger Sweeny

    CNN Money had a small follow-up story, which was included in the yahoo newsfeed.

  • anonymousskimmer

    Doesn’t the College Board have nearly a century of test questions?

    Why can’t it randomly reuse the statistically best from all of these? Such a huge test- set would be practicably uncrammable.

  • surfer

    I went to grad school in 1995 and was told by a friend that it was common belief in physics that the GRE subject test was compromised in China (not minor cheating in the room, but the exam known). I didn’t know whether to believe it or not at the time. Physics GRE is pretty tough and he might have just been whining. But later revelations seem to bear out his comment. May have been a problem for a while.

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