Exams Doctored and Bribed Proctors

Earlier this month, March 2019, news spread like wildfire of an admissions scandal on a national scale. Wealthy parents had paid hefty sums into a fraudulent “charity” organization to ensure their children got into elite universities—up to $1 million for a single client. There was an outcry over altered photos and awards to get students athletic scholarships, and there’s no telling just how common this sort of scheme is. But notably, entrance exams like the ACT were also cheated. As we delve into what these people did, let’s keep in mind how much trouble—and jail time—could have been avoided had these parents instead signed their child up for ACT prep tutoring in St. Louis.

The crux of the scheme begins with obtaining a fraudulent letter or affidavit from a mental health professional stating that the student needs additional time to complete the ACT exam. Let’s back up a step—extra time on the exam? Yes, students with learning disorders, attention deficit disorders, or any number of innumerable mental or physical conditions, may apply for “National Extended Time,” also known as “time-and-a-half,” or “Special Testing.” National Extended Time allows for an additional 50% time on each individual section, while Special Testing can be any of a host of accommodations, including up to double-time, private testing spaces, multi-day testing, space for service animals, etc. These are much-needed accommodations for those with disabilities, and their relative ease of access is pivotal to ensuring that those who need them are able to get them. Unfortunately, these parents exploited that system and used connections and bribes to get false diagnoses and statements from medical professionals. Since it would be unbecoming, impractical, and expensive to enforce any significant regulations on this system, the students were able to slip in under the radar.

Extra time was only the beginning, however. The exam still had to be sat, though not necessarily by the students themselves. Like notable schemes in the past, many students participating in this scandal never sat the ACT at all, instead opting to have another person take the exam for them. With an enormous number of testing centers in the US and little security of speak of, it was a simple matter for proxies to procure fake school IDs—effectively the only step required to pass oneself off as someone else in the ACT. And if that weren’t an option, or if the student was being led to believe that they were passing the exam legitimately, for example after receiving ACT prep tutoring in St. Louis, then a slightly more involved plan was required. A family-related incident would be fabricated, for example, a vacation or the death of a relative, that necessitated a trip out to California or Texas. Here, the “charity organization” had test centers, representatives, or proctors on the take, and bribed them to “adjust” the student’s score to an appropriately high level after the fact. Between bribed officials, proctors, and coaches, this scandal had its fingers in a lot of pies. It’s no wonder that it eventually all came out in the open.