Thursday, June 11, 2009

No Harm, No Foul?

There are few consequences for SAT or ACT cheaters.

Posted By on Thu, Jun 11, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Cheating on an ACT or SAT college entrance examination, as former University of Memphis basketball star Derrick Rose is accused of doing, is extremely rare and has few consequences for the person taking the test.

Tom Ewing, spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT for the College Board, said there are about 1,000 investigations a year, of which 500 are cleared. Close to 3 million SAT exams are taken each year.

Ed Colby, spokesman for the ACT, said about 2.5 million tests were administered this year, and only a small number were fishy enough to investigate. He would not be more specific.

"The more we talk about security, the less secure the test becomes," Colby said.

While he was in high school in Chicago, Rose took the ACT at least twice before taking the SAT prior to his entrance to the U of M in 2007. Prospective students can take both tests. Rose was admitted and declared eligible based on his SAT score, which is blacked out in documents released last week by the U of M. His SAT score was invalidated in May 2008. The university says it was not notified until after the basketball season was over.

If your SAT test is canceled, you can take it again with impunity.

"The only thing we do is cancel tests," Ewing said. "We don't implement any punishment. We figure that's pretty much up to the colleges or whomever."

Colby said ACT policy is similar.

"You can take it again," he said. "The only consequence is that your test was canceled."

Suspected cheaters are notified by certified letter and have 14 days to respond. At least two notices are sent. On the SAT, they can clear up the suspicions, retake the test, or allow the college or an arbitration panel to make a ruling. The ACT offers a retest at the agency's expense at a mutually agreed upon time and place.

"Whether the student responds or not, we will conduct the review," said Colby. "If the score is canceled, that would be the first time any college that received the score would be notified. Up until that point the only person made aware of the review would be the student."

Anyone who takes the entrance exams must present a photo ID on test day. According to the U of M's response to the NCAA allegations, Rose was suspected by officials of the Chicago public schools of having someone else take both his ACT and his SAT in 2007. The U of M investigated the allegations in October and November 2007 but found "insufficient evidence" of cheating. Rose himself, in an interview with U of M officials, "when asked directly about the tests he was reported to have taken responded that he took each of them himself," according to the university's response to the NCAA allegations.

The Educational Testing Service, however, wasn't convinced. It continued to investigate Rose's score on the SAT in 2008 while Rose was in school. There is no statute of limitations on score reviews. It is not clear exactly what caused their suspicions to linger after Rose had already entered college and been NCAA-certified as eligible to play basketball.

A handwriting analyst hired by the testing service said Rose "probably" did not write the cursive writing on the exam form. Rose either did not receive his notices about the investigation or did not acknowledge them, in effect running out the clock while playing in the 2008 NCAA tournament.

Both Ewing and Colby said test takers under suspicion are notified before the school is notified in case the student is cleared. That could be important in the U of M's defense that it should not be penalized for an infraction it did not know about until May 2008.

The last date to take the entrance exams is in early June before the fall semester begins. Ewing said it would be "extremely unusual" for a student to be notified of cheating allegations after he had been admitted to college and was participating in sports, as Rose was.

"Probably less than a month is usual," he said. "We try to be thorough, but we don't dawdle."

It is also rare for a test to be validated and later invalidated, as was the case with Rose. The SAT is scored on a scale from 200 to 800 on math and verbal components. Retaking a test, on average, increases the score by about 40 points, although about one third of retesters fail to raise their scores.

The fine art of cheating by proxy means making sure the score improvement is high enough to achieve eligibility without setting off alarms. That is not easy. The Educational Testing Service administers millions of tests each year in addition to the SAT and publishes a fat manual on everything from normal score variance to setting "cut scores" to distinguish passing and failing grades.

A big discrepancy in test scores from the same person can create suspicion. Last week, reported that Rose's U of M teammate Robert Dozier made a 1260 on the SAT on his first attempt in 2003. That was way out of line with his below-average classroom performance and score on the SAT preparatory exam. The Educational Testing Service investigated Dozier's score in 2004. He agreed to take the test again and scored 720. On that basis, the University of Georgia denied Dozier's admission, and he enrolled at the U of M instead.

The NCAA sets eligibility standards for athletes using a sliding scale that accounts for both the student's test score and grade-point average in core courses. For example, a student with a 2.0 GPA needs a 1010 on the SAT, while a student with a 3.0 GPA needs a 620. That would seem to be an invitation to inflate high school grades for star athletes, which is far less risky than cheating on an entrance exam.

An ACT score below 19 can result in a student-athlete being required to take remedial courses before being allowed to take credit courses. The national average on the ACT in 2008 was 21.1.

Dozier has graduated and is not part of the current investigation of the U of M, but his case could come up later in a separate investigation. And it sheds more light on the basketball program at Memphis under former head coach John Calipari. Coaches and athletic officials at the U of M would almost certainly have been aware of Dozier's test background. He was a star recruit who initially committed to Memphis, then signed with Georgia, and then signed with Memphis. Coaches who were in daily contact with star recruits would know why Dozier kept changing his mind in 2004.

But until last week, there was no publicity about Dozier's entrance exam scores. Three years after Dozier came to Memphis, Rose, who was even more highly touted than Dozier, entered the U of M. He had the skills that would take the basketball team to a 38-2 record and the NCAA championship game and the test scores that have put the university at the center of an NCAA investigation and those 38 wins in jeopardy.

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