The FBI is looking at evidence from the Maryland home of a former official of the College Board as part of a probe into a serious breach of hundreds of test questions from the SAT college entrance exam.
Federal agents seized computers and other materials from Manuel Alfaro, former executive director of assessment design and development at the College Board. Alfaro had contacted government officials from seven states, making accusations his former employer lied about its tests in bids for state contracts.
According to Reuters – to whom about 400 test questions from the newly Common Core-aligned SAT were leaked – a search warrant reveals the FBI “is investigating alleged computer intrusion and theft against an unidentified ‘victim corporation’ involving ‘confidential or proprietary information,’ including tests, test forms and internal emails.”
The news agency’s report states Alfaro accused the College Board – which also produces the Advanced Placement tests – of deceiving states that have given the test company public contracts to use the SAT as their official assessment measure for high school students. He alleged the College Board misled these states regarding its process to create questions for the newly designed SAT, an action that ultimately resulted in an inadequate measure.
Alfaro – who left his position at the College Board in February of 2015 – also used his LinkedIn account to publicly post his accusations against the standardized testing giant. In a post on Sunday titled “Department of Education Heads of the States Using the SAT for Accountability Should Resign Immediately,” Alfaro asserted that he had contacted the heads of the Departments of Education (DOE) of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, and New Hampshire to inform them of his allegations.
He warns residents of these seven states that their officials “have failed to protect the best interests of your students and your families, opting instead to protect their own interests and the interests of the College Board.”
On May 25, Alfaro posted a letter he sent to the heads of the DOEs of the states, reminding them that he had previously contacted them on May 7 “to let you know that the College Board had made false claims in proposals it submitted in bids for assessment contracts with your states.”
In a May 7 email to the education chiefs for those states, Alfaro said that while he was a College Board employee, he “became aware of patterns of concealment, fabrication, and deception used by the College Board to misrepresent the SAT and PSAT.” He alleged that the College Board didn’t follow the process to develop the SAT and PSAT that it publicly says it uses.
Alfaro – who directed the development of parts of the newly designed SAT that was announced would be aligned with the Common Core standards – charged that the College Board had omitted “a crucial step in the test development process, which he says resulted in a lower-quality exam.” On June 1, Alfaro posted that skipping that step could mean the College Board was non-compliant with federal guidance regarding peer review for state testing programs.
Alfaro wrote to the DOEs of the seven states that, on May 10, he received a letter from the College Board’s attorneys informing him that they were investigating his allegations. He wrote that while he refused to meet with the attorneys representing the assessment company, he did offer to have a “Q & A” session with the College Board itself, and to meet with the states’ legal teams so that he could “prove my allegations and claims.”
In his letter to the DOE heads, Alfaro indicates none of them responded to his letter.
“I began my disclosures with your states because you are in a unique position to quickly verify my claims,” Alfaro wrote. “Your contracts with the College Board contain clauses that give you access to College Board records at any time.”
In his public accusations against the College Board on LinkedIn, Alfaro tells citizens of the seven states that their current heads of the DOEs “have failed you” due to their failure to respond to his charges that the College Board “has committed global fraud against their states and the federal government.”
The heads of the Department of Education of your states clearly lack the critical reasoning skills (and the common sense) and basic knowledge of test development required to make good decisions on behalf of the millions of children in their care. This reason alone is enough to demand their immediate resignation.
The College Board saved approximately 17 million dollars by taking shortcuts in the development of a product that affects the lives of millions of students every year. This is how the College Board can afford to offer the SAT to states for about $12 per student.
Breitbart News reached out for comment to the heads of the Maine and Michigan Departments of Education but received no response.
Reuters reports College Board spokesman Zach Goldberg said about the raid on Alfaro’s home, “We are pleased that this crime is being pursued aggressively,” adding that Alfaro’s charges concerning the development of the new SAT were “patently false.”
The College Board’s chief attorney Peter Schwartz reportedly referred to Alfaro as a “disgruntled former employee.”
According to the news agency, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is looking into Alfaro’s allegations.
The SAT breach is “a problem of a massive level,” one that could “put into question the credibility of the exam,” Neal Kingston, director of the Achievement and Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas, said about the leak of test items.
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 as the official measure of proficiency of their high school students.
In its prior report, Reuters suggested the College Board’s lack of security around the exam itself is a serious matter:
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.”
The news agency reported that in response to 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 testing company said it would improve its security for the exam.
“University admissions officers, however, continue to voice concerns to College Board officials about reuse of exams,” Reuters reported. “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.
Breitbart News reached out for comment to the heads of the Maine and Michigan Departments of Education. While the Maine Department of Education did not respond, Martin Ackley, director of Office of Public and Governmental Affairs at the Michigan Department of Education emailed the following statement:
The Michigan Department of Education looked into the matter and found out that Mr. Alfaro worked at the College Board for 21 months and was considered not to be speaking with any authority about its tests.
In redesigning the SAT, the College Board reports its unprecedented commitment to transparency and has published its test specifications, which include the test development process used to develop the test.
When the College Board became aware of Mr. Alfaro’s allegations, they reached out to him through their counsel to ask if he would provide them with more information so they could assess the substance of his claims, but he declined that request.
The Michigan Department of Education, as with the College Board, would look into any other detail should Mr. Alfaro provide it.