Mass Cheating Sees SAT Canceled for All of South Korea

For the first time in the history of the SAT, the test has been canceled for an entire country.

On May 1st — three days before the May 4th test date — Educational Testing Service (ETS), the company that administers the SAT, discovered that questions from the upcoming exam were being passed around test prep centers in South Korea. Countless test-takers were exposed to actual exam questions for the May 4th test, which compromised the exam for the entire country.

So, ETS shut it down.

Jeyup S. Kwaak writes in The Wall Street Journal that the cancellation has caused chaos for South Korean students hoping to attend a college or university in the United States, sending them scrambling for a solution — including leaving the country:

The cancellation has thrown college-entrance preparations for thousands of students into disarray. Some students now plan to travel to other countries in the region to ensure they are able to take the next test in the summer.

In the 2011-2012 academic year, nearly 73,000 South Korean students went to college in the United States, the third most in the world behind China and India.

The blame seems to lie with South Korea’s famous culture of academic pressure, which exists in part because high academic achievement is a necessary stepping stone to securing the most sought-after jobs:

In modern-day South Korea, the academic environment is ultra-competitive because obtaining qualifications from the best institutions has long been critical to winning the most-desired jobs. Almost two-thirds of South Koreans between 25 and 34 years old have college degrees, the highest ratio in the world, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.

South Korea has in recent years been rife with academic scandals as government officials have been found to have misrepresented credentials or plagiarized dissertations.

Those in South Korean education are worried that the scandal will have lingering effects on American schools’ perceptions of their academic credentials. ETS, however, has reassured the public that there will be nothing to worry about in the future:

U.S.-based Educational Testing Service is the SAT’s developer, vendor and scorer. Thomas Ewing, a spokesman for ETS, declined to comment on the investigation, but in a written statement called the security measures for tests taken in South Korea “among the most stringent of any country in which the SAT is administered,” adding that a security review for the country is under way.

ETS has also made it clear that if there are more problems, the test will be canceled nationwide again rather than administer a potentially-compromised exam.

It isn’t the first time SAT cheating has rocked South Korea — in 2007, roughly 900 scores were canceled when officials discovered that the exam may have been invalid.

Matthew Tabor

Matthew Tabor

Matthew is a prolific, independent voice in the national education debate. He is a tireless advocate for high academic standards from pre-K through graduate school, fiscal sense and personal responsibility. He values parents’ and families’ rights and believes in accountability for teachers, administrators, politicians and all taxpayer-funded education entities. With a unique background that includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, professional sport and government, Matthew has consulted on new media and communication strategies for a broad range of clients. He writes the blog “Education for the Aughts” at www.matthewktabor.com , has contributed to National Journal’s ‘Expert’ blog for Education , and interacts with the education community on Twitter and Google+.