A cheating scandal that washed over New York last year is causing ripple effects in Minnesota as college entrance exam season kicks off with thousands of students facing heightened test security.
After revelations that Long Island students paid as much as $3,600 to have someone take the ACT or SAT tests in their place, new security measures were announced in May. Although students previously were required to show ID at the test sites, the replacement test takers got around the rule with fake IDs.
But as of October, students will have to submit a photo in advance with their application, present a matching photo ID when they arrive at the test site and show ID again when submitting the test. The student's photo also will accompany the test results to their school for further verification.
Students who show up without a photo ID on the day of the test will be turned away.
The new rules have worried some educators because not all students have Internet access at home, and thus cannot upload the required photo with their application.
"It's on their minds," said Polly Reikowski, principal at Eagan High School. "You want to make sure that students don't run into any problems [on test day]. There's already enough stress on that day."
The changes by ACT Inc. and the College Board, which runs the SAT, will affect the roughly 3.2 million students nationwide who take the exams. The next SAT test date is Oct. 6; for the ACT, it's Oct. 27.
"It must be a big deal for SAT and ACT to make these changes," said Sue Luse, an Eagan education planner who guides students through the testing and college admissions process. "The bottom line is that kids are going to have to do a little more planning."
Said Judi Tomczik, a counselor with the Shakopee school district: "We've been getting the word out. Students are aware of the changes."
The cheating scandal in Long Island involved students who paid $500 to $3,600 to have someone take the test for them using fake IDs. About 20 people were charged, although prosecutors believe as many as 50 students were involved.
"The situation in New York certainly spurred us to see what more we could do," said Ed Colby, a spokesman for ACT Inc.
Colby would not say how many students are caught cheating each year or how many test scores ACT invalidates because of cheating.
The College Board has said that about 1,000 scores were thrown out and about 3,000 scores were questioned in the 2010-11 school year. The College Board did not break down the numbers by state.
The ACT is taken overwhelmingly by students in Minnesota and other central states, while the SAT is favored on both coasts. Last school year, about 45,000 students in Minnesota took the ACT, Colby said.
A digital divide
The changes should not hinder the vast majority of the students who take the tests, but there are tens of thousands who don't have high-speed Internet at home to upload the required photos.
"My concern is for students from poverty who might not have access to computers," Tomczik said.
"I've had a couple of kids who are concerned about this."
An indication of how big this digital divide might be comes from the Comcast cable company, which last year started an initiative to provide less-expensive high-speed Internet access for low-income customers.
The company said it has provided the service to 100,000 families for about $10 a month. About 1,600 families in the Twin Cities have signed up, a fraction of the almost 30,000 families locally that are eligible.
"It's another example of how broadband is becoming a necessity," said Mary Beth Schubert, vice president for corporate affairs for Comcast.
Colby said ACT Inc. is well aware of the digital divide issue and has been working with schools to minimize the effect. He estimated that only "a small percentage" of students in Minnesota and nationally don't have Internet access.
Colby said the company is allowing students to mail in their ID photos.
Luse said the photo requirements are so strict that it can take a long time to upload them because the photos are being rejected if they don't meet company standards for such things as clarity, size or clutter.
If the same issues arise via mail, it could lead to lengthy delays that throw off students' plans.
Luse, for example, recommends her students take the ACT at least three times. But the tests are only offered six times during the school year.
Luse also worries that some students and parents might get so frustrated that they give up and delay or forego the test, which could have dire consequences for early college applications.
"I think the changes are a good idea," said Cherie Cocallas of Eden Prairie, whose 17-year-old daughter, Coty, registered for the ACT using the new procedures. "But it took us four times to upload the picture. I was fairly annoyed when I was finished because of the time that it took. It was trickier than it needed to be."
Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281