SATs, ACTs Beef Up Security After Cheating Scandals

Plus, more of the week's top education news.

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In the wake of an embarrassing cheating scandal that saw high-scoring students using fake IDs to take college entrance exams on behalf of other students, the SAT and ACT tests are stepping up security. Both exams will now require students submit a photograph when they sign up for the test, and officials will check those images against the IDs presented on test day to ensure the two match up.

At first glance it looked as though the new measures lacked teeth. After all, what’s to stop a student from uploading or mailing in a fake photo that matches the fake ID? But the test providers worked in a few more safeguards, including making it mandatory for test scores be mailed to the students’ high schools with the corresponding photos so school administrators can easily verify the identities of their students. The photos will also remain in a database that can be accessed by colleges.

The measures are designed to stop future incidents like the scandal unearthed last year in Nassau County, N.Y., in which 20 teens were charged with either impersonating someone else and taking the ACT or SAT for that person, or paying another student between $500 and $3,600 to take the test for them.

Though the new measures are a step in the right direction, they did not go far enough, Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of Fair Test, a non-profit organization that supports better forms of assessment, told The New York Times.  They did “nothing about the more significant and widespread problem of collaboration inside the test center or simply copying,” he said.

A complete rundown of all the new measures is here.

Other Class Notes:

Atlanta Newspaper Finds Evidence of Cheating Nationwide
Speaking of cheating, reporters at the Atlanta Journal Constitution analyzed test scores for 69,000 public schools across the U.S. and found suspicious scores in roughly 200 school districts. While the analysis doesn’t prove cheating, it at least encourages local officials to look further into the districts identified by the newspaper for patterns that could indicate widespread cheating on standardized tests; situations could be similar to the scandal in Atlanta, where nearly 200 educators were found to have been correcting incorrect answers after students had turned in the tests. Overall, the report finds 196 of the nation’s 3,125 largest school districts has enough suspicious scores that the odds of such results occurring by chance alone were worse than one in 1,000. Read the full story here.

Brazil Uses Locator Chips to Keep Kids in School
In what is likely the most innovative (not to mention aggressive) measure yet to keep students from cutting class, the Associated Press reports that grade-school students in a city in Brazil are using uniforms embedded with locator chips to alert parents if their children are skipping school. The radio frequency chips send text messages to parents, alerting them if their child is not in class 20 minutes after it began. By 2013, the city hopes to have all 43,000 public school students, aged 4 to 14, outfitted with the devices. Read more here.

Sorry, Kids: Your Parents Feel Less Able to Help Pay for College
A new survey from Amerprise Financial shows that parents (and future parents) feel they are much less capable of helping their children foot the bill for college than in years past. According to the latest Money Across Generations report, only 25% of adults, aged 18 to 46, surveyed said they believed they would be able to help their children pay for their education, down from 49% in 2007. Read more here.

Fewer Women Earning Studying Science, Engineering
Well, this is exactly the opposite of what you want to hear. According to a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in 10 years, the percentage of women earning degrees in science, technology, engineering and math at community colleges has fallen by 25%. Read more here.

NYC’s Laughable List of Banned Words
New York City’s Department of Education has requested 50 words and phrases be banned from inclusion on standardized tests, as students might find the words upsetting. Among the list: birthdays, celebrities, Halloween, homes with swimming pools, junk food, rock and roll music and television. See the full list here.

Kayla Webley is a Staff Writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kaylawebley, on Facebook or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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