Colleges and universities have discovered the hard way how an age of hyper-communication has brought new and creative ways of cheating.
Now they're discovering the extent to which it occurs before students even step through the door.
Cheating has long existed on college entrance exams, but it seemed to reach new levels of sophistication last year with the unveiling of a test-taking scandal in Long Island, N.Y. involving dozens of high school students. Five students were arrested on charges of using fake IDs to take college entrance tests for other students. Meanwhile, 15 students were charged with paying test-takers between $500 and $3,600 to take exams using their names.
According to the New York Times, in one case, a male test-taker who graduated from high school in 2010 took tests for girls with gender-neutral names.
The scandal prompted the companies that administer the SAT and ACT this week to change the rules on entrance exams across the nation. Beginning this fall, students will need to:
; Provide a photograph when they register to take a test.
; Present a photo ID on test day which will be matched up with the photo they uploaded during registration.
; The photos will be forwarded to colleges that receive the test results as well as to the high schools that the students attend.
; Testing services also will be eliminating standby test registration. In the past, this has allowed students to show up, register and take the test on the same day. Students also will no longer be able to change testing sites on test day or decide at the last moment to take a different exam.
Unfortunately, these rule changes will be an inconvenience for many students. But they're a necessary upgrade to security surrounding entrance exams.
According to the Times, 3,000 SAT scores across the nation were questioned last year and, of those, 1,000 were canceled. In addition, 750 students were kicked out of tests for breaking the rules against having cellphones and other items.
Some school counselors have raised concerns about photos being put in a database that will be made available to college admissions officials. Some are worried that this will open the door to prejudice in the admission process.
"I do fear that it could be a quick and easy way to make decisions based on looks," Terry Giffen, the director of college counseling at Taft School in Watertown, Conn. told the New York Times. "With a picture there, I think it opens a Pandora's box."
We understand the concern. It's something worth tracking. But in an era of Facebook, Twitter and multiple personal blogs, it's difficult to claim that one photo on a college admissions database is somehow a breach of a student's personal anonymity.
We're more concerned with what we see inside the Pandora's box of rules that allow students to take exams without clear protections against impersonation. It's a grim picture.