More security for the SAT, but is it better?

Students will now have to register a current photo of themselves in order to take the SAT or the ACT, reports Caralee Adams at Education Week.  (See also this article in the NY Times.)

Under the new measures, students must submit a current photo (digital or print) when registering for the tests, and the photo will appear on the admissions ticket for the testing site, according to a press release from the College Board, which administers the SAT.

Supervisors at the center will have a roster of students with their name, date of birth, gender, test type, attending high school, and access to a printable online register of photos. Upon entering the testing site, students must present the admissions ticket. They also may be asked to show the photo ticket when re-entering the test room following breaks or upon collection of the answer sheets.

In the past, students were required to present only a photo ID when they arrived.

This is in the wake of a cheating scandal in New York.  There was a problem… so something must be done, right?

Well, the problem is people sitting in the chair who ain’t the person applying to college.  That’s what you have to fix.  It seems pretty clear that false test-takers were able to get fake ID’s in order to take the tests under the old regime.

Now, maybe I’m just a pessimist, but all this seems to do is move up the deadline for finding your test-taking proxy.  Who is really going to know that the photo you submitted with your registration isn’t you?  My first thought is, “This is kinda dumb.”

Now, under the new rules, it will certainly be easier to discover cheaters…

After the test, high schools will receive scores for all test-takers enrolled at that school. A registration-data repository will be created with students’ information and photos for review upon request by high schools, colleges, universities, and the Education Testing Services office of testing integrity.

… but who is actually going to sit down and do the (now easier) work?  Who is going to sit down with the high school year book, or the freshman facebook and check the faces?

  • ETS has every reason to do it, but they can’t do it, because they don’t know what the kid really looks like.
  • High schools seem to be in the best position — and from the Times article, that seems to be where ETS is expecting enforcement.  But what incentive to schools have to actually check these things?
  • College have some incentive — but it’s harder for them to know in advance what the student really looks like absent requesting a photograph (which is sure to bring lawsuits — there’s already mutterings about whether ETS should send the photos to the colleges).
  • Parents?  They’re probably the ones paying the proxy in the first place.

If this does work, it will be at the high school level.  And ETS will have successfully contracted out its security services to high schools across the nation without paying them a dime.

Hmm.  That’s not dumb at all.  That’s kind of brilliant.


  1. Cranberry says:

    “… but who is actually going to sit down and do the (now easier) work?”

    Your high school guidance counselor? The counselor who should be able to identify you? The person who is supposed to fill out an extensive “secondary school counselor recommendation” on the Common Application for you?

    If a school uses Naviance, I bet they’ll be able to electronically add the score and photo to the file. That could lead to some interesting discussions.

    “But what incentive to schools have to actually check these things?”

    If the school cares about college placement, the guidance department will want colleges to trust their input.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I didn’t know that guidance counselors had to write a recommendation these days.

    That’s a little bizarre. Not that I don’t believe you, of course, but I can’t imagine, as a college admissions officer, that I’d care what a guidance counselor had to say about a student unless the student asked them to write a recommendation.

    I only ever really spoke (beyond saying “hi”) to my guidance counselor twice — once at a mandatory meeting as a freshman and once as a senior to ask for fee waiver letters. I have no idea what she’d say about me that wasn’t hearsay.

    Maybe guidance counselors are different nowadays. Anyway, I learned something new today. Thanks!

    Even if the counselors do check the photos, though, ETS has still successfully outsourced its test security for essentially zero cost. And the high schools are (mostly) government funded, so they’re not going to complain about the cost.

    You have to admit, that’s pretty slick.

    • Cranberry says:

      The common app requests counselors compare applicants to other students in their grade on: Academic achievement, extracurricular accomplishments, Personal Qualities and Character, and overall. There’s a sliding scale from “below average” to “one of the top few I’ve ever encountered.” The common app also requests information about disciplinary infractions, which the guidance department should have on file, but teachers may not have access to.

      They may attach a reference from another school official who knows the student well.

      Oh, and yes, Naviance will complete many of the forms on the common app: Instead of using the Common App Online School Forms System, you will submit your online forms through the Naviance interface as explained in their support pages. Additionally, when completing the application, your students will not be prompted to enter teacher and counselor information in the School Forms Section of Common App Online

      ” ETS has still successfully outsourced its test security for essentially zero cost.”

      I think there are probably significant costs involved in revamping the admission tickets to add photos. While the College Board has a well-thought out account system for students, the actual “admission ticket” is not very advanced. There’s the advantage that a kid who’s forgotten his “ticket” can print it out at will just before the exam, but at present a student taking the exam at a different school could use a false ID. ETS doesn’t offer the SAT at all high schools every time. It’s better to add photos than to require every high school student to take the SAT at his high school, and require every high school to be a test site on every national test date.

      Also, the cheating scandal only came to light because high school officials noticed kids with so-so grades and high SAT scores. With high-quality home publishing equipment, I think ETS has to rely upon the high schools.

  3. I think the counselor’s recommendation is more about the school and the student’s rank within it rather than a traditional personal recommendation. For example, as I understand things, colleges want to get reliable information about how many AP or IB classes were available at a particular student’s high school so that they can gauge the rigor of the student’s course work, etc.

    My guess is that the new ID requirements will simply deter attempts; students will realize as they register for the test that if suspicion of cheating arises, it will be incredibly easy to prove. Most will conclude it’s not worth the risk.

  4. My kids attended highly-ranked suburban schools where almost all kids went to college and large numbers went to elite colleges and the guidance counselors were zeros, at best, and often a hindrance. I never encountered one with any real knowledge about academics (HS or college) or much interest. They were all about the emotional side of things. In addition, all of the elite colleges wanted recommendations from academic teachers, preferably in the area of intended major.

  5. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t understand what’s to prevent the student from uploading the ringer’s photo.

    • Print to PDF, substitute photo, print altered ticket with ringer’s picture.  Unless the test-site staff compare the photo on record to the face and not just the picture on the ticket, no one’s the wiser.

    • Cranberry says:

      It seems many of the students who cheat take the SAT first. Thus, if the original photo on file is yours, it would be really stupid to upload a different picture.

      If the score is questioned, the photo allows proof of cheating–which may soon be a felony in New York:

      Test-site staff already compare the number on the admissions ticket to the number in their files. If they have an iPad, or a color printout, comparing the face on record to the test-taker’s face would be trivial.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    This makes the SAT unavailable to those who don’t have drivers licenses, who don’t have the money to get free state ID, who don’t get out much, or who are agoraphobes. Or dead.
    It’s so unfair.

    • Sean Mays says:

      Richard: It also makes it tough for parasites who’d rather let somebody else do their work; the lazy who can’t be bothered and the entitled who think that standardized anything is beneath them. Being dead wouldn’t be a bar, at least in Cook County, IL. It IS unfair.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Sean. I may have been in a hurry. I was riffing on the voter ID theme.

  8. Lightly Seasoned says:

    The best security is just to have students test at their own school where the proctor will know them. Proctoring pays about $100 for the morning — not a bad gig for getting papers graded.

    Yes, many colleges ask for a recommendation from a counselor. I imagine the quality varies quite a bit by school, but I know ours, who is dedicated just to college admissions stuff, spends her summers writing a couple hundred of them. Every now and then she shoots me an email asking a few questions about a student, so the letters are personal to some degree. I know *my* recommendation letters are very personal and take some time to write — especially the ones for the highly selective schools.

    Naviance has been a blessing.

    The testing companies are VERY powerful, and their power is growing with “college for all” and CCSS.