ACT and SAT exams show up in nationwide college admissions scandal

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Thousands of students will take college entrance exams this spring — the crucial ACT and SAT tests used for college admissions.

But a massive college admissions scandal made public on Tuesday has given rise to concerns about cheating and security on the exams that are supposed to be sacrosanct.

Federal prosecutors have ensnared dozens of defendants in a nationwide conspiracy related to wealthy parents – including high-profile actresses and business executives — getting their kids into elite colleges by means of bribery and other schemes such as cheating on college entrance exams.

At least two men from Florida have been charged:

–Miami resident Robert Zangrillo, described in court documents as “the founder and CEO of a Miami-based private investment firm focused on venture capital and real estate investments.”

Zangrillo allegedly “conspired to bribe athletic department officials at USC to designate his daughter as an athletic recruit, thereby facilitating her admission to USC (University of Southern California),” and had a woman “secretly take classes on behalf of his daughter,” so those grades could be submitted to USC.

–Mark Riddell, of Palmetto, near Bradenton. He was involved in “cheating on the SAT and ACT exams by bribing test administrators to….secretly take the exams in place of actual students, or to replace the students’ exam responses with his own,” according to court documents.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune has biographical and other information about Riddell.  And news outlets have more information on other defendants.

Meanwhile, the top testing firms, ACT, Inc. and the College Board, which administers the SAT, are now part of the drama of the scandal.

ACT said in a statement that it has been fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts and other law enforcement units “to identify and expose the few bad individuals who have attempted to undermine a fair testing environment. We will continue to assist in the ongoing investigation to ensure individuals involved are held accountable for their actions.”

The company said that “ACT contracts with thousands of people to locally administer the ACT around the country. These individuals certify to follow ACT’s policies and procedures to administer the ACT test. In these cases, the two charged individuals allegedly did not follow ACT’s rules.”

The company also said: “The integrity of the ACT scores that we send to colleges and scholarship agencies is of critical importance to students and their parents. ACT works hard to ensure that the ACT scores we report to colleges are fairly earned. The ACT was founded in 1959 to extend opportunities to those who engage in honest, hard work; it remains the foundation of our mission today.

We encourage anyone with information regarding possible misconduct on the ACT to report that information using ACT’s anonymous Test Security Hotline More information on the investigation can be found here:

The College Board provided this statement related to the SAT:

“The arrests resulting from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts send a clear message that those who facilitate cheating on the SAT – regardless of their income or status – will be held accountable.

The College Board has a comprehensive, robust approach to combat cheating, and as part of that effort we work closely with law enforcement, as we did in this investigation. We will always take all necessary steps to ensure a level playing field for the overwhelming majority of test takers who are honest and play by the rules.”

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.


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