Single out SAT cheats instead of tarring all Asian students with suspicion

Kelly Yang says that if the administrator for the SAT exam is serious about rooting out cheating, it must name those found guilty

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 December, 2014, 10:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 December, 2014, 10:32am

Last week, the Educational Testing Service confirmed that a number of Chinese and Korean students had cheated in the October SAT examination. What has it done in response? Far too much and not nearly enough.

To fully understand the scandal, one must first understand how it was even possible. It happened because, in Asia, the organisation recycled tests which had already been used in the US. Why would it do that? To save money.

Unfortunately, a few Chinese and Korean students obtained the previously administered tests. That's not hard, given how many people take the tests and how easy it is to take a photo with a phone, which few invigilators bother to confiscate at exam centres.

When the news of the cheating first broke, the Educational Testing Service's response was to delay the test results for all Chinese and Korean students in Asia. It didn't matter whether a student took the test in Singapore - if they had a Chinese address, their scores were delayed. Nearly all students whose scores were delayed did nothing wrong, but they had to endure a month of uncertainty and suspicion. Their only crime was being Chinese.

Finally, last week, the organisation said it had identified a "limited number" of students who appear to have cheated. So what will it do with these crafty swindlers who tainted the reputation of an entire continent? Nothing. Their scores have been cancelled. That's it. They have not been banned from retaking the test. Neither will the fact they cheated be reported to any universities they applied to.

Perhaps the company was hesitant to report cheating to universities for cost-saving reasons - it wants to avoid litigation. Or, perhaps it feels it simply does not need to. In recent reports, the College Board, which administers the SAT exam, has been quick to point out that many security features are already in place to protect against cheating. These include printing test booklets on secure printers, never storing tests on a cloud, and even searching their own test writers' briefcases at the end of every day to ensure they are not carrying test material.

Yet, clearly, they are not enough. If the only consequence of getting caught is to have your score erased - which makes it look like the student was sick that day and simply did not show up - some students will try to cheat.

The organisation's actions are also offensive. By postponing the release of scores of every Chinese student, it sends a signal to universities that they are all probably cheats. The lack of action with the regard to the actual cheaters begs the question: does the organisation actually want to get rid of cheating?

I hope so. But this can't be achieved through publicly shaming an entire continent of students. To stop cheating, it needs to shame the actual cheating students in front of the universities they are trying to con their way into. The universities would appreciate this, future employers would appreciate this, and so would the vast majority of Asian students who do not cheat.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.