Thursday, August 4, 2016

"Massive" security breach exposes hundreds of new SAT questions

"Massive" security breach exposes hundreds of new SAT questions:
'Massive' breach exposes hundreds of questions for upcoming SAT exams

Part Five: Experts say the failure to protect test items may be among the worst security lapses in college-admissions testing history. It’s not clear how widely the material has spread, but the exam’s owner, the College Board, is taking steps to minimize the impact.
BOSTON – Shortly after David Coleman took over as CEO in 2012, the College Board began redesigning its signature product, the SAT college entrance exam. The testing company also hired a consultancy to identify the risks associated with the monumental undertaking.
Among the red flags that consultant Gartner Inc raised in an October 2013 report: The not-for-profit College Board needed to better protect the material being developed for the new SAT.
Plans to secure the new test from leaks or theft had “not been developed” by the organization, the consultancy wrote in the report, reviewed by Reuters. At risk were thousands of items, or questions, that were being prepared for the redesigned SAT.
In 2014, employees at the New York-based College Board also raised concerns, arguing for limits on who could access items and answer keys for the revamped SAT, an email shows.

They were right to be worried.
Just months after the College Board unveiled the new SAT this March, a person with access to material for upcoming versions of the redesigned exam provided Reuters with hundreds of confidential test items. The questions and answers include 21 reading passages – each with about a dozen questions – and about 160 math problems.
Reuters doesn’t know how widely the items have circulated. The news agency has no evidence that the material has fallen into the hands of what the College Board calls “bad actors” – groups that the organization says will lie, cheat and steal for personal gain.” But independent testing specialists briefed on the matter said the breach represents one of the most serious security lapses that’s come to light in the history of college-admissions testing.
To ensure the materials were authentic, Reuters provided copies to the College Board. In a subsequent letter to the news agency, an attorney for the College Board said publishing any of the items would have a dire impact, “destroying their value, rendering them unusable, and inflicting other injuries on the College Board and test takers.”
College Board spokeswoman Sandra Riley said in a statement that the organization was moving to contain any damage from the leak. The College Board is “taking the test forms with stolen content off of the SAT administration schedule while we continue to monitor and analyze the situation,” she said.
Riley declined to say whether those steps would involve cancelling or delaying upcoming tests. The next sitting of the SAT is October 1.
The breach is “a serious criminal matter,” Riley wrote. “A thorough investigation is ongoing, therefore our comments must be limited.” The College Board did not grant requests for interviews with CEO Coleman and other employees named in this article.

The SAT is used by U.S. universities to help evaluate more than a million college applicants a year, and so a major security lapse could cause havoc for admissions officers and students alike.
That College Board security was breached is “a problem of a massive level,” one that could “put into question the credibility of the exam,”  said Neal Kingston, who heads the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas.
If unscrupulous test-preparation centers were to obtain the items, the impact on the SAT would be “devastating,” said James Wollack, director of the Center for Placement Testing at the University of Wisconsin.
“Everyone will pull out all stops to try to compromise this test,” Wollack said. That items for upcoming exams have leaked is “very alarming, very concerning indeed.”
It’s too soon to know what damage the leak could cause. Harm can be minimized if the items aren’t widely distributed. But Wollack and Kingston noted that the latest incident is more serious than the widespread SAT cheating reported in East Asia during the past few years.

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