New security measures for students who take college entrance exams stand to add to the time and legwork involved in the testing process, officials with local high schools said Tuesday.
But given the tests' importance, school officials said they'll do what's necessary to meet the measures.
In the wake of a cheating scandal involving dozens of Long Island students, a New York prosecutor and testing company officials announced that students this fall will be required to upload or mail photos of themselves when they sign up for the ACT or the SAT exams. Students already have to show an ID to take the test, but this is the first time they will be required to submit photos ahead of time.
Testing officials can use the photos, which will appear on admission tickets and on test rosters, to check against the photo identification students present when they arrive.
These changes and others, which will apply nationwide, follow the arrest of 20 current or former high school students accused in the cheating scheme, in which high-scoring students allegedly used fake IDs to take SATs or ACTs for other students.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said some of the students were paid as much as $3,500 to stand in for other students on the SAT exam. She said 50 students likely were involved in the scheme but that she only had evidence to arrest 20. Prosecution against the 20 — some suspected of taking the tests and others suspected of paying them to do so — still is pending.
The tests are important because they're used by colleges and scholarship programs to varying degrees to determine admission and awards, said Larry Uhing, a guidance counselor and ACT test supervisor at Grand Island Senior High in Grand Island, Neb.
"These are high-stakes tests," he said.
Completing applications and verifying identification will take more legwork once the changes are in place, he said.
At the same time, Uhing said, strict security measures already are in place and test sites follow them.
Every time the test is offered at the high school, he said, officials deny admission to at least one student who doesn't have the proper identification, as now is required. Often, the student simply has forgotten to bring ID.
"The public needs to know there is scrutiny right now . and there is security, maybe not to the extent there needs to be," Uhing said.
Don Ferree, a guidance counselor and test proctor at Omaha Burke High School, agreed that testing procedures already are rigorous.
But he would support having more security, just as he would at an airport.
In his 13 years proctoring tests, he's dismissed about a dozen students, mostly for violations such as filling in answers after time is called or leaving cellphones on during tests or breaks.
"We take the testing procedures very seriously," he said.
Cindy Gray, associate superintendent for the Elkhorn Public Schools, said the changes likely will add to the time it takes to register for the ACT, which now runs about 45 minutes. Counselors likely will provide more assistance to students as they go through the process.
"We have not seen anything that's a concern in our area," she said, "but we do understand why we might have to go through this."
Schools encourage students to take the tests. In Iowa, a school reform proposal would require all students to take a career readiness test.
Uhing said the Grand Island district encourages students to take college, community college or military readiness exams.
Seventy-six percent of Nebraska's 2011 graduates and 61 percent of Iowa's took the ACT. About 4 percent of Nebraska graduates and 3 percent of Iowa graduates took the SAT.
Worldwide, 3 million students took the SAT in 2010-11 and 1.6 million took the ACT.
But Rice, the New York prosecutor, complained that security procedures were too lax. One male student allegedly stood in for a female student on one occasion.
"These reforms close a gaping hole in standardized test security that allowed students to cheat and steal admissions offers and scholarship money from kids who play by the rules," Rice said.
Ann Mausbach, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Council Bluffs Community Schools, agreed with that goal.
"I think it's the right thing to do to make sure kids are earning their scores," she said.
Under the new requirements, the photo students supply not only would be printed on their admission ticket and test roster but also attached to students' scores when they're reported to high schools and colleges. Test registrants also will have to list their gender.
Other changes include more frequent ID checks at test centers and additional training for proctors in spotting cheaters.
Reports also indicated that standby test registration, in which students can register the day of the test, would be eliminated.
Stacey Evert, director of college counseling at Brownell-Talbot School in Omaha, said that change could be a problem for students who want to retake a test or those who have forgotten to register. Evert talked with one student Tuesday who was interested in the standby option.
"The numbers are never significant," she said, "but I do have a handful every year who use that standby option."
Grand Island's Uhing said testing companies provide testing officials with manuals that they must follow explicitly.
If they don't complete a document properly, the testing companies contact them and they must go back and recheck.
Signs are posted at test sites alerting students that they can call and report cheating if they observe it. Proctors have a direct line to ACT on test days that they can call to report irregularities, such as bad weather, a sick student or a fire alarm.
When checking IDs, they look not only at the photo but also at the physical description. For Grand Island students, they can check IDs against the district's online system.
"It's something we take seriously," Uhing said.
This report includes material from the Associated Press and the New York Times.
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