Posted on December 23, 2016

Chinese Education Giant Helps Its Students Game the SAT

Steve Stecklow and Alexandra Harney, Reuters, December 23, 2016

When the new SAT was given for the first time in March, the owner of the test took unprecedented steps to stop “bad actors” from collecting and circulating material from the all-important college entrance exam.

But in the months since, China’s largest private education company has been subverting efforts to prevent cheating, Reuters found.

The company, New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc, has regularly provided items from the tests to clients shortly after the exams are administered. Because material from past SATs is typically reused on later exams, the items New Oriental is distributing could provide test-takers with an unfair advantage.

New Oriental has put some of the exam items on its Chinese website. On Dec. 6, for instance, the Beijing-based company posted a reading passage that had been used on a version of the SAT administered in the United States three days earlier. New Oriental also has been posting information about recent questions on the TOEFL, the English-language exam widely used by colleges to assess foreign applicants. TOEFL questions are also sometimes recycled.

New Oriental also gave students access to a March version of the SAT that was administered in the United States, two students from Beijing told Reuters. One of the students showed Reuters 36 pages from that test.

In addition, the news agency viewed a copy of a full version of the SAT given in Asia last month. Most pages of the document were emblazoned with the words “Beijing New Oriental School,” a major tutoring operation run by New Oriental. A person who identified himself as a test-prep teacher at the school posted 15 pages of that exam on Chinese social media.

In response to the Reuters findings, New Oriental issued a statement condemning “illegal and illegitimate business practices, whether committed by competitors or by any of our current or past employees . . . We are reviewing what has been raised and will take disciplinary actions against anyone who violated our policies and procedures.”

The Reuters findings cast new doubt on the ability of America’s standardized testing giants to contain cheating in Asia, where security breaches pose an increasing threat to the integrity of U.S. college admissions. Hundreds of thousands of students from China and other Asian nations are now enrolled at American campuses.

The SAT’s owner, the New York-based College Board, has blamed the cheating epidemic on an industry of nameless “bad actors” operating beyond the arm of the law. New Oriental, however, is one of the best-known companies in China.