May 17, 2012

200 NYC teens will have to retake the SAT because their seats were too close together.

The Daily News reports:
Educational Testing Service, which administers the SATs for the College Board, requires students to sit at least 4 feet apart during the exam to prevent cheating. But a company inspector who conducted a surprise visit that day found that the students were sitting much closer.

An email sent by the company Tuesday informed the kids, who came from 50 city schools, that their results would be invalidated and invited them to retake the test at another location on May 19.... Packer Head of School Bruce Dennis said that there’s no evidence that any of the kids cheated, and he’s looking into a lawsuit to prevent their scores from being scrapped.
Shouldn't the lawsuit be against the Packer Collegiate Institute? It screwed up the seating.


rhhardin said...

If the students aren't in on the seating arrangements, there's no reason to think they're cheating.

That assumption is what is being sued about.

It produces an enormously high false alarm rate on non-cheating, which is irrational.

MadisonMan said...

Of course they were seated too closely. It was at Packer Institute!!

Chip S. said...

That assumption is what is being sued about.


The violation of the contract specifying a minimum distance between test-takers is what's being sued about.

Matthew Sablan said...

Why didn't they just space the kids out during the surprise inspection?

Matthew Sablan said...

“We made a mistake, but it’s excessive to invalidate the entire test,” said Dennis. “We’ve been giving the test in the same manner for years, with no problems.”

-- In which Dennis accidentally gets the SAT scores for students, for years, to be invalidated.

Alex said...

Typical overzealous regulator, no common sense. Make the students suffer for some abstract principle.

traditionalguy said...

This is the EPA governance style in action: Crucify 200 students to get the other's attention on whom to fear.

Governance is really fun these days.

edutcher said...

If the exam was proctored properly, there shouldn't be any cheating, regardless of the seating (when I took the SATs, I seem to remember the seats being pretty close, although it may have been because we had to keep our Pennsylvania Long Rifles handy in case the French and Indians attacked).

Mitchell said...

The more optimistic students will see the invalid test as a prep course.

Alex said...

For multiple choice, how does one even cheat properly? If I circle (B), how does the other guy know my answer is correct? This whole thing is utter nonsense!

traditionalguy said...

That reminds me of the final building inspectors using the Handicapped persons rules on bathroom installations.

If the rule says 4' feet wide doors, then 3' 11.99'' has to be ripped out and done over. The inspector will come back in a few weeks after you call him, maybe. Succor!

alan markus said...

The more optimistic students will see the invalid test as a prep course

Will those students who were properly seated at other sites sue for their own chance to do a "do-over"? I admit I haven't looked at the link - I'm almost out the door - but is there some evidence that there was cheating, i.e, higher than normal scores or sam scores?

Chip S. said...

You people gurgling about "regulators" do understand that ETS is a private firm, don't you?

Now try really hard to think of a reason why a firm that makes its money certifying test scores would establish rules for administering those tests.

alan markus said...

sam scores

Meant "same scores"

Shanna said...

That reminds me of the final building inspectors using the Handicapped persons rules on bathroom installations.

They recently got rid of the indoor ATM at my bank (there is still a drive through one). I asked the teller and he said the ADA people complained that it wasn't accessible. So now it doesn't exist. Lovely.

Ann Althouse said...

ETS has to monitor the test administration. I care about the way these students were treated, but I also care about everyone else who takes and relies on the test.

It's all connected.

Bryan C said...

"You people gurgling about "regulators" do understand that ETS is a private firm, don't you?"

They're a nonprofit who've colluded with another nonprofit, the College Board, to monopolize virtually the entire college admissions process. They've taken regulatory capture about as far as it can go.

tim maguire said...

Sounds like the students, if their test scores are invalidated, should be suing both ETS and Packer. They paid for a service that they didn't get.

Whatever dispute ETS has with how their partner administered the test does not involve the students and they have no right to use those students as pawns in their game.

Wally Kalbacken said...

Nice Mulligan.

Drew W said...

I feel especially bad for those students who have to retake their SATs on Saturday because my daughter is one of them.

I don’t think that having to get up early on a Saturday and take the SATs again exactly amounts to a crucifixion, as Traditionalguy put it, but my daughter would probably agree with him. (Unfortunately, she will have to schlep all the way out to a distant Coney Island school for the retest, whereas it was a fairly short walk for her to get to Packer. No doubt other kids will find the new location more convenient.) Like Mitchell, I tried to look on the bright side, and suggested that the invalid first test could help her get a better score on the second one, but I don’t think she quite bought that.

What I’d really like is for both tests to be tallied and for the student to officially receive the better of the two scores. Of course that won’t happen, since the possibility of cheating on the first one has been raised. And that, obviously, is ludicrous. If a kid wants to cheat on an SAT, he finds somebody to take the test for him, he doesn’t squint across at the test of the kid next to him, in hopes of replicating its No. 2 pencil dot-pattern.

Joe said...

Many years ago, I signed up for the SAT forgetting that I was going west for college and at that time, western colleges favored the ACT and I'd done extremely well on it. So, that morning I decided to see how fast I could take it without simply guessing. There were a lot of alarmed faces when I left early. (My math score ended up worse than average, my verbal score better than average.)

Chip S. said...

They've taken regulatory capture about as far as it can go.

Really? There are government-created barriers to entry into the standardized-testing industry?

I'm sure that will come as a surprise to the ACT folks.

There could be a dozen competitors in the industry and each of them would still take pains to assure the integrity of their tests.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I think the SAT is a bullshit indicator anyway. Plenty of people who can score a 1600 but don't have the sense to wipe front to back.

Mitchell said...

It's front to back?


Chip Ahoy said...

Front to back? Oh man, I bin doin' it wrong.

John said...

I work for another major college-entrance exam company (I'm sure you can guess which one), and I can tell you for a fact that it was completely appropriate for the surprise inspector to invalidate the tests. These are STANDARDIZED tests, which means the tests must be given in a standardized environment. There are numerous rules that the company enforces in order to maintain a standard environment, and flouting these rules (as the hosting institution did) is absolutely grounds for invalidation. It is really too bad that the kids will have to take it again, but re-takes happen all the time in this industry, and in most cases, it works in the kids' favor. They end up having an authentic (and free) practice test in which to become familiar with the way the test works, and to get over any nerves they might have. This is only news because it happened in New York and affected so many students.

Chip S. said...

I think it's well-known that people who max out on the SAT do quite poorly if they major in asswipery.

Fortunately, they account for a tiny percentage of the US population, so there are plenty of total asswipes available when needed.

elkh1 said...

The students are guilty of a crime that has never occurred.

They should have stopped the test then and let the kids take the test the next day.

Chip S. said...

They should have stopped the test then and let the kids take the test the next day.

Yeah. Totally practical.

Someone who actually knows what he's talking about has told us that "retakes happen all the time". Maybe John will be kind enough to explain to us why the retakes are done the way they're done, and not some other way.

Geoff Matthews said...

The company that provides the test has every right to set the requirements for the administration of the test. If the requirements are not met, then the validity of the test may be undermined.
If you use a phone during the test, regardless of the reason, your copy of the ACT is removed and destroyed. It doesn't matter whether you were trying to cheat.
This is more of the same. It's setting the baseline. Packer should be ashamed for not following these basic guidelines.

Kirk Parker said...


"Will those students who were properly seated at other sites sue for their own chance to do a 'do-over'?"

No one would waste their time doing so; anyone who wants to can take the SAT a second time.

sleepless nights said...

The scoring is different now. IIRC the top score is now 2400 - not 1600.

Seven Machos said...

It's touching that people here seem to believe that virtually all the kids there didn't already spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on test prep and already have several proctored practice tests.

Richard Dolan said...

"Shouldn't the lawsuit be against the Packer Collegiate Institute? It screwed up the seating."

Packer is one of the two private schools in Brooklyn Heights (my kids go to the other one, St Ann's). Most of the kids impacted by this attend Packer or St Ann's, although kids from lots of other schools were taking the SATs there as well. Packer has been one of the main testing sites for the SAT for years (it has larger rooms and better facilities to host these tests), so it obviously should have known about the 4-ft rule. But it's understandable that they didn't go around rearranging the desks in the classrooms to make sure all the seating satisfied it (I'm told that the inspector was griping about 'violations' as petty as 2 inches).

We know lots of families impacted by this screw-up. It's a big headache for the kids and their families as well as Packer, not just in terms of having to retake the thing. One of the most common complaints I've heard is that families had made plans to attend graduations for older siblings already in college that weekend, and now have to make adjustments on the fly.

I'd be very surprised if there were any litigation. Packer has offered to bus the kids to the new test site, but that's all I've heard they have done so far.

tim maguire said...

John, I don't think anybody here has said they don't have the right to set and enforce testing conditions. The problem is, the contractor they entered into a business relationship with made the mistake. In response to this mistake, they are punishing their customers.

Now you tell me how a business handles that situation. What does McDonald's do when they find out a franchisee is selling cheeseburger containing slightly more burger than called for in regulations.

Do they set the franchisee straight? Or do they go to the houses of the customers and confiscated the burgers?

And when you're done, please address Machoseven's point that there is a bit more to taking an SAT then getting out of bed Saturday morning and going to a classroom instead of a soccer field.

Hoosier Daddy said...

How the hell do you cheat on an SAT? when I took it I didn't know anyone there. Hell the guy sitting next to me could have been garage Mahal for all I knew.

Scott M said...

How the hell do you cheat on an SAT? when I took it I didn't know anyone there.

I completely tanked on the SAT. The day I took it was a Saturday and my parents were out of town for the weekend. On Friday night, in preparation for a house party I was going to have Saturday night, my friends and I took all of the furniture and wall hangings, including the Christmas tree and a large aquarium, out of the main rooms and stuffed everything in the bedrooms.

During the entire test, I was freaking out that I would come home to find my parents standing in an empty living room ready to kill me.

Thank God the college I went to accepted the ACT.

Seven Machos said...

ETS has been rocked by cheating scandals recently. Not the kind that would matter here, but people taking tests for other people -- which was common for a long time and not an issue until somehow somebody got busted.

So, naturally, because of that cheating scandal, ETS has decided to enforce its silly rules that have nothing to do with that cheating scandal, and cause misery and distress for honest, hardworking students.

ETS is evil and stupid.

sleepless nights said...

Sucks if you had a really good performance day.

ndspinelli said...

This would have never happened if nuns were proctoring the exams. "Leave room for the Holy Spirit boys and girls."

Shanna said...

How the hell do you cheat on an SAT? when I took it I didn't know anyone there.

I took it at my school, so I knew everyone.

Sucks if you had a really good performance day.

I was thinking maybe if you had to retake that
a. you should have options when to do so (not all forced into one weekend when they might have plans) and
b. If the scores were within say 100 points you should get to keep the higher score. None of this was the kids fault.

Chip S. said...

Sucks if you had a really good performance day.

And golden if you were having a really bad day. Welcome to the randomness of existence.

None of this was the kids fault.

This won't be the last time shit happens to them that wasn't their fault. But it probably is the first time, for most of them.

Life is unfair. Deal with it.

Then get even with the school officials who fucked up.

Seven Machos said...

If "shit happens" was our law, we would have a lot fewer lawsuits, and a lot less justice.

rhhardin said...

Front to back is women.

Guys are allowed to do it any way they want.

Grace Paley brought that up.

John said...

Someone said that the SAT is not a govt regulatory agency.

I think that is not quite true. They are a private agency, true, but they are certified (Accredited? Approved?) by the federal govt as an agency who can do this kind of testing.

Ditto the school accreditation agencies.

Much of what we touch in our daily lives is not govt regulated but is regulated just the same. UL governs all electrical appliances. National Electrical Code (by a private org NFPA) governs how we wire our houses. NEMA governs the size and specifications of light bulbs.
AMerican Society of Mechanical Engineers regulates your water heater.

All private organizations but with govt sanction. If you wire your house not in accordant with the National Electrical Code, the city will not give you an occupancy permit. And so on.

SAT is a regulatory agency. Just not a govt regulatory agency.

John Henry

Dante said...

The right answer to these kinds of problems is to have severe punishments for cheating.

I recall as an undergraduate grading computer programs, and found a number of cheaters. It was really clear. Bringing this to the professor's attention, he did essentially nothing. In my view, they should have been given an "F" in the class at a minimum, and put on probation.