Security Matters

January 9, 2013 Heather Hoerle
Security Matters

It’s reading season at independent school admission offices, and we’re well aware that both your actual and virtual desktops are overflowing with applications to be read, test scores to be analyzed, letters of recommendation to be interpreted (to that end, please read SSATB’s new Testing Brief, available on your Member Access Page (MAP)). During this time of year, most admission directors go to sleep and wake up thinking about their applicant pools and the important decisions they weigh as they build their incoming class.

At SSATB, we have been going to sleep and waking up thinking about many of the same issues. Lately, one of big challenges on our mind is the security of our tests and our ability to thwart those who cheat. Indeed, during my first year on the job, I had to make the decision to cancel scores for over 200 students taking the SSAT abroad, when it was revealed that many of them had access to actual forms of our tests.

By its very nature, standardized testing is an area fraught with anxiety and ripe for those who seek to take advantage of vulnerabilities. So, the sad fact is that all high-stakes testing now invites high-risk behavior. In fact, test integrity and security is now a worldwide concern, as evidenced by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s calls for improved security for standardized tests and the U.S. Department of Education’s first-ever symposium on test security held in 2012.

At SSATB, we have taken a number of steps to ensure that we are vigilant about test security. We have considerably beefed up on-site security here in Skillman, NJ. Doors to our test development and storage areas are accessible only by dedicated key fobs, and cameras monitor all areas where tests are received, stored, shipped, and scored. We’ve also changed partners abroad this year, building strong alliances with Country Master Distributors of the SSAT in Korea, Vietnam, Jamaica, and Hong Kong. These partners are locally respected for their integrity and commitment to ensuring fair practices in testing. We have also been working closely with our administrators in Shanghai and Beijing, and, on more than one occasion this year, well-trained and well-managed proctors have caught cheaters in the act.

We’ve updated materials for SSAT proctors and administrators, briefing them on proper procedures for securing test sites and materials. Any member planning to administer the SSAT is required to sign an agreement attesting adherence to proper procedures in administering the SSAT. The improper handling of test materials by SSATB test center proctors/administrators has had specific consequences in the last year, with three administrators removed from membership.

Certainly in recent years, technology has streamlined testing and scoring, but it has also introduced new perils. Gone are the days of writing formulae and other test tips on the palm of a hand or a shirt cuff (although we get some of that too!). In 2013, cheating has gone high tech. Just this year, a test taker arrived in innocent-looking, heavy-framed eyeglasses, which turned out to contain a tiny video camera! (see photos below)

Spy Glasses 1         Spy Glasses 2

Last year, another student was caught using a video pen to record our tests. In addition to these high-tech examples, we have caught students hiding dictionaries in toilet tanks in order to look up words and return to their vocabulary sections after a break.

As we look to the future, it is our great hope that Computer-based Testing (CbT) may be a boon to test security. Moving questions to a digital paradigm should, in the long term, assist in safeguarding them, though we will still need to remain ever-vigilant. Our CbT Advisory Committee is working closely with SSATB this spring to determine how to manage the logistics of online testing, and next year, we’ll pilot-test the SSAT on computers to ensure that we’re 100% confident of our measures.

Please know that no matter the mode (print or online), SSATB remains on high alert when it comes to test security, so that our test scores are accurate reflections of the academic aptitude of your applicants.

Best of luck to all admission directors during this “high season” of admission. I look forward to seeing many of you at our spring seminars!

About the Author

Heather Hoerle

Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer

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