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‘Massive’ Breach Leaks Test Questions from Common Core-Aligned SAT

Hundreds of exam questions from the College Board’s redesigned SAT college entrance exam have been leaked to Reuters, the news wire reports.

Only several months after the launch of the new Common Core-aligned SAT college entrance exam, hundreds of confidential test questions were leaked in what test experts say is one of the most serious breaches in the history of college admissions assessment.

According to Reuters:

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.”

The leak is “a problem of a massive level,” one that could “put into question the credibility of the exam,” says Neal Kingston, who directs the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas.

It is unclear to date whether the breach will undermine the upcoming administration of the SAT on October 1.

The College Board released the statement below regarding the breach on its website:

The theft of unpublished test content is a serious criminal matter. The College Board and our partner ETS are responding quickly and deliberately to investigate and resolve this matter. To be clear, this stolen content has not been administered to students. Therefore, no students have or will be impacted by this theft.

As the investigation is ongoing, we are limited in what we can share. We want to assure you, our members, that we are taking the stolen test content off the SAT administration schedule while the investigation is under way.

We will continue to update our members on the progress of the investigation.

James Wollack, director of the Center for Placement Testing at the University of Wisconsin, described the situation of the leaked items as “very alarming, very concerning indeed.”

“Everyone will pull out all stops to try to compromise this test,” Wollack said.

Reuters describes the material leaked as “a wealth of items for upcoming tests.” The items include “reading passages drawn from novels, historical documents, scientific journals, essays and other texts, each accompanied by questions. Also among the materials were math problems involving geometry and quadratic equations.”

The College Board has been managing multiple breaches of SAT test material for years, leaving questions about the actual validity of the test. The current massive breach comes at a time when some states and school districts are replacing the Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced Tests with the SAT.

Reuters suggests the College Board’s lack of security around the exam itself is a serious matter. The report continues:

Internal documents reviewed by this news agency showed that material for past exams had been “compromised,” a term the College Board uses to describe tests whose contents have leaked outside the organization.

In February, Reuters asked the College Board how it went about protecting exam materials. Spokesman Zach Goldberg described the organization’s use of lock boxes to help prevent the theft of SAT booklets sent to international testing locations.

But lock boxes, he acknowledged, “would not preclude a leak that originated earlier in the content development and distribution cycle.”

Reuters, earlier this year, reported on an East Asian industry’s discovery of how to take advantage of the College Board’s regular practice of using the same items over again from prior tests.

The report asserts:

In a statement at the time, the College Board pledged to do more to protect the exam. University admissions officers, however, continue to voice concerns to College Board officials about reuse of exams. If the College Board can’t keep test material secure, schools are left with the impossible task of determining whether an applicant saw questions before taking the exam and therefore gained an unfair edge.

Since 2012, the College Board has been led by CEO David Coleman, also known as the “architect” of the highly unpopular Common Core standards. In the name of social justice, Coleman’s goal has been to align the SAT college entrance exam with the nationalized standards in the hopes of allowing more low-income and minority students to gain entrance to college. Many education experts and college professors have referred to the aligning of the SAT to the Common Core as a further “dumbing down” of standards to force regular state colleges to accept the low-level college-readiness offered by the Common Core.

According to Reuters, when Coleman took over the College Board and the company began to align the SAT to Common Core, much of the redesign was handled in-house instead of being handled by Educational Testing Service (ETS), as it was prior to Coleman’s leadership. A “final draft” of an internal report from 2013 shows that consultant Gartner Inc. warned the College Board that it needed to better secure the test material that was being developed for the redesigned SAT.

“The plan should address not only the physical security of printed exam booklets but also the safeguarding of the College Board’s network, servers, storage and data, the consultant recommended,” reports Reuters, adding that Gartner also urged the appointment of a Security Lead to the Program who would be responsible for all areas of security related to the redesigned test.

However, as Reuters reports:

An internal email shows that security concerns about access to test items remained months after the consultant’s October 2013 report.

In a June 16, 2014 email to a College Board official, test development team member Daming Zhu wrote that he and his colleagues were concerned that too many people inside College Board had “access to such secure data.”

College Board spokeswoman Sandra Riley, however, denied that Zhu’s concerns amounted to anything significant. She also said Zhu asked Sherral Miller, College Board vice president of assessment design and development, “to confirm College Board’s policies and guidelines in order to respond to these inquiries, which Dr. Miller subsequently provided.”

Reuters reports, “Riley declined to share the guidelines, or to say how many College Board employees and contractors had access to the test items.”

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