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SAT Security

Yes, I’m Mr. Galazkiewicz

Many years ago, Bud Light aired a commercial that has since been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame (yeah…there is such a thing…oh, imagine a world in which we knew the names of the teachers in the Teacher Hall of Fame, but I digress).

In the ad, a limousine driver holds a sign displaying the name “Galazkiewicz” and awaits his passenger at an airport. A traveler approaches and asks him if the limo is stocked with Bud Light, and when the driver says, “Yes,” the traveler replies, “Then I am Mr. Galleeweekich,” butchering the pronunciation of the name. The limo driver retorts, “You mean, ‘Dr. Galakiewicz?’” and the traveler affirms, “Yes I am.” In the next scene, the traveler is sprawled in the limo, enjoying a Bud Light.

It’s absurd, isn’t it, the ease with which this traveler was able to assume Dr. Galakiewicz’s identity and pilfer the good doctor’s limo? Surely the driver would have asked for ID or documentation of a reservation? Yet, as evidenced by a recent cheating fiasco, it seems that taking the SAT for someone else indeed requires little more than a “Yes I am.”

If you’re a news junkie like me, you couldn’t have missed this story: at the end of 2011, school officials in New York’s Nassau County learned that several high school students had paid former classmates up to $3600 to take the SAT for them. Since then, much has been said about security or lack thereof at SAT administrations. Perhaps the student at the center of the scandal said it best—if brazenly—when he told 60 Minutes that “security is uniformly pathetic” and that “anybody with half a brain” could pull off such a caper.

I can confirm that the security measures College Board and ETS have in place are abysmal. Anyone with a computer, a decent printer, and a laminator could easily take the test for a desperate or lazy friend. Because students are not required to test at their own high schools, the people responsible for checking students in on test day may have no clue what a student or his student ID is supposed to look like. As long as someone has his picture on a student ID, and the name and high school on the ID matches those on his admission ticket, he’s in.

Contrast this with the measures in place for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Most GRE test-takers are photographed and thumb printed; they are assigned a locker into which they must empty the contents of all of their pockets; at some test sites, they are even scanned, TSA-style, with a metal detector wand.

Many of you may wonder why College Board doesn’t take a page from the GRE playbook and implement the same standards for the SAT. There are two likely reasons: the size of the pool of the test takers and the ages of the students in that pool. Nearly two million students take the SAT every year, and the vast majority of them are minors. About a quarter as many college students and graduates take the GRE. So, applying similar security standards to the SAT would not only be an enormous and costly undertaking, it would also involve worried and anxious parents knowing that their worried and anxious teenagers were being “wanded” and having their belongings searched before what could be the most important exam of their high-school careers. Granted, this happens at airports every day, but usually the parents are there to supervise, and the stress caused by TSA procedures is not likely to affect the student’s in-flight performance.

Regardless, there must be ways to improve test day security. But some of the suggestions being tossed around reflect a lack of familiarity with administration of the test. One such suggestion is to require students to take the test at their own high schools. At face value, this is a decent idea. However, many high schools do not serve as test centers, and in some cases, even when a student’s high school is a test center, another center may be closer to the student’s home. (One might imagine that low income students already disadvantaged by their lack of access to good test prep programs and materials would be even worse off if they had to arrange for transportation to their own high school when another test center is walking distance from their home; actually, any high school student who doesn’t drive- and his or her parents- would be inconvenienced by such a scenario.)

So what is the solution? I don’t know. I do know that given all of the technology and biometric devices we have available, this is a problem that can (and must) be solved to preserve whatever integrity the SAT still has left.

Perhaps Gaston Caperton, College Board’s President, could give up a small portion of his $1.3 million dollar salary to invest in some fingerprint readers?


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