An international prep program may be helping foreign students cheat on the ACT, a Reuters investigation has found. But it isn’t outsiders gaming the system, the news agency says: The program, the Global Assessment Certificate program, is owned and controlled by ACT Inc. itself.
The GAC is recognized by more than 60 U.S. colleges. It is operated by a foreign subsidiary of ACT Inc., called ACT Education Solution Ltd., headquartered in Hong Kong. There are 197 centers in 11 countries.
GAC is particularly popular in China, where 149 of the centers are located. It operates like a franchise, Reuters found, with local operators paying an ACT subsidiary for the right to offer GAC curriculum. The centers are run by the local operators, rather than ACT staff.
The Reuters investigation identified at least six GAC centers, five in China and one in South Korea, that offer English-language test-prep courses and also proctor the official ACT — violations of the ACT’s own conflict-of-interest policy. At these locations, GAC operators had access to exam booklets days or weeks before the test was taken, Reuters found.
And because they had early access to the exams, they had the ability to share the tests with their students, Reuters reported after interviewing seven GAC students. They said school officials and proctors turned a blind eye to cheating — and sometimes actually provided test questions ahead of time.
CHEATING ON THE EXAM AND IN COLLEGE CREDIT CLASSES
One student who now attends the University of California-Los Angeles told Reuters that a GAC administrator in China let him practice nearly half the questions that would appear on his ACT. Another student, currently attending a university in the Midwest, told Reuters that his Chinese center let students read two articles that later appeared on their ACT.
GAC teachers and administrators also spoke to Reuters and described similar instances. Jason Theiman, a former teacher at the GAC center in Xiamen, Fujian, says he left GAC after students complained when he tried to crack down on the cheating. “If every university admissions office that accepted GAC students knew about what was going on with the GAC, and especially with the ACT, I think they wouldn’t want to accept the students anymore,” Theiman told Reuters. “It’s outrageous.”
Christopher Bogen, another former GAC instructor, told Reuters that his students would repeatedly cheat on assignments. Essays that were supposed to be written in English would be translated using the Google Translate web tool, Bogen says, and the GAC curriculum made cheating easy because the same tests were given over and over again. Looking into it, Reuters found tests and other GAC assignments for sale online in China. A number of U.S. colleges award credit for GAC courses.
ACT TEST SECURITY RECOMMENDATIONS REJECTED
Reuters reached out to ACT Inc., and Rachel Schoenig, the organization’s head of test security, told them ACT Inc. is battling an “emerging trend of organized fraud rings … who, for a lot of money, a lot of their own personal gain, are seeking to undermine the system for honest test-takers.”
Reuters also found that ACT has an internal staff of only 14 handling security for thousands of test centers. The news agency also discovered that in 2015, that unit repeatedly urged security overhauls for overseas testing, suggesting increased personnel and better vetting for international test centers. The recommendations were ignored or rejected.
Schoenig told Reuters that ACT Inc. has now taken steps to address testing in GAC centers. Among other measures, she said, they have begun shipping the test in lockboxes; in fall 2017 a computerized version of the ACT will be introduced for overseas test-takers.
But until then, the cheating likely continues. The UCLA student who was involved in GAC cheating told Reuters that it saved him time. He scored 33 out of 36, putting him in the top 1% of test-takers.