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BEIJING — The announcement by administrators of the SAT college entrance test that scores are being withheld for students from China and South Korea who took the exam earlier this month has infuriated many and raised anxiety about what for a number of them is a high-stakes college application process.|
The Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the test worldwide, said Wednesday that it was withholding the scores of those who took the test on Oct. 11, at least temporarily, because of suspicions of cheating “based on specific, reliable information.” The company referred in a statement to “organizations that seek to illegally obtain test materials for their own profit, to the ultimate detriment of all students.
The announcement about the withholding of scores came just days before deadlines for early application for many colleges and universities in the United States. Some students in China and South Korea complained that the move was too broad, and that the administrators should be taking action against only those students suspected of cheating.
“I’m very anxious and angry,” said Wei Jialiang, 18, a senior at Miyun High School, in a Beijing suburb. “Why the Chinese? If there were cheaters, just single out them; don’t drag us all into the mess. Every exam has cheaters, and it’s not like that it happens only in Asia.”
“Right now, I really don’t know what to do,” he added. “After all, I took the exam and paid the fee. It’s your duty to inform me of the score. It’s the College Board’s responsibility to root out leaks and cheats, not that of the students.”
The College Board, a nonprofit organization, creates the SAT and contracts with the Educational Testing Service to provide testing security and administration overseas.
Mr. Wei said he was relying on a good score from the October test to help offset a score from June that “wasn’t so good.” He said people were rushing now to book slots to take the test in December, in case administrators declared the October scores invalid. But results from a December test would be too late for many students applying for early admission, since schools selecting students in that process usually inform candidates in December.
The Educational Testing Service said it hoped to complete an investigation and release valid scores by mid-November, in time for many schools to take them into account in deciding on early admissions. The company did not say how many test-takers were being affected by the suspension of scores. Tom Ewing, a spokesman for the company, said the scores were being withheld based on nations where the students lived, not on where they took the test.
The Institute of International Education estimates that from 2012 to 2013, China accounted for 29 percent of foreign students at American colleges and universities, and South Korea 9 percent. Those were the largest and third-largest contributors to the international student pool in the United States, while India was second, at 12 percent.
In recent years, SAT administrators have uncovered several cases of widespread cheating on the exams and taken action. In particular, people at some test preparation schools were accused of acquiring and sharing test questions in advance.
In 2007, administrators voided 900 SAT scores from South Korea. Last year, administrators canceled an exam in South Korea scheduled for May 2013 after accusations of attempts at widespread cheating were reported in the domestic news media. That forced some of the 1,500 South Korean students who had signed up for the exam to scramble to apply to take the exam elsewhere.
In November 2013, South Korean prosecutors said they had indicted eight “SAT brokers” who had hired students to memorize questions of exams taken abroad or posed as test-takers themselves, using secret cameras to take pictures of questions. Prosecutors also indicted 22 managers and teachers at test preparation companies in South Korea for buying the illegally acquired SAT data.
In both South Korea and China, academic cheating has been a long-running problem. Professors, officials and celebrities have been exposed for having plagiarized dissertations or even faked degrees.
South Korea is known for its hypercompetitive educational system, and several of its high schools are famous for astounding placement rates at Ivy League colleges and universities.
Elite Chinese schools have yet to reach the same placement levels, but test preparation companies and college application consultancies have proliferated in recent years. Middle-class and wealthy Chinese parents are spending large sums of money to try to bolster their children’s chances of getting into a respected college abroad. It is unclear whether any such companies are involved in the current cheating scandal.
Chinese students mostly travel to cities outside mainland China to take the SAT because the test is administered at only a few schools in the country
College application consultants in China said on Thursday that the investigation by the Educational Testing Service was causing anxiety among parents as well as students.
Harry Fu, a consultant at a private test preparation school in Beijing, said students applying for early admissions were feeling especially vulnerable because of the suspension of scores.
“It could lead to complete failure,” he said. “This is serious. Many students are affected by this, and those in this group of students are mostly excellent. They are the top 15 percent, I would say. The schools to which they apply are the elite top 20 or at least top 40.”
One consultant said Chinese students with whom her company works generally take the SAT at least two times because they strive to improve their English abilities after the first attempt. Many college applicants take the test in the fall of their senior year because of the time it takes for them to improve their English, she said.
Percy Jiang, a college counselor at Beijing National Day School, a junior high and high school established in 1952, said that since many of the school’s students travel abroad to take the test, “it’s a huge investment and a lot of time spent.”
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“Students and parents feel that it’s unfair to them because other students in other places have had no problems,” he said.
“This is a huge challenge,” he added. “It seems that most of students here are O.K., but the parents are more panicked than the students. Here in China, parents pay a lot of attention to the test results. They are not O.K. without the test, because they have no confidence. Usually because most parents rely on the ranking system, they focus on the SAT range. They need to know the numerical score.”
The father of a senior student at the school who recently took the test in Singapore said in a telephone interview that “as parents, we want to know if this cheating incident really did happen, and to emphasize that testing conditions should be fair.”
“We hope it’s clear that only a small group of Chinese students cheated, and that they cannot represent the whole,” said the father, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Wang. "A small number of SAT cheaters affected everyone and their applications. I feel it’s a pity.”
Richard Pérez-Peña reported from New York. Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul, and Patrick Zuo and Jess Macy Yu contributed research from Beijing.