I’ve spent some time this week trying to help students from Iran affected by score cancellations salvage their academic futures.  To be honest, I haven’t been able to help much.

Here’s something that bugs me: 

A student’s scores were cancelled.  Like many others, she was told:

“As a result of ETS’s rigorous score validation process, we have identified several factors that substantiate this score cancellation, in part because we detected unauthorized recording devices/software that were open during the test session which is a violation of ETS policy”

This could mean anything.  Maybe she set out to cheat and was caught.  Or maybe she forgot to turn off Skype after talking to her grandma.  Who knows?  ETS won’t provide any more information.  But, hey, both are valid reasons to cancel the scores, I suppose.

In any case, she suffered greater consequences than a cancelled score. A very fine university withdrew its offer of admission to grad school and  informed her that (due to the seriousness of the offence) she may never apply again.

I really hope that this institution was given all of the information that was needed to make such a life-changing decision.  I really hope that it knows that sometimes (often?) this particular rule is violated entirely by accident.  To react in such a way they darn well better have been told that the student set out to cheat.  And if this decision was made in error, perhaps the verbiage used to inform them of the violation needs to be adjusted.  Words have meaning and weight, damn it.

In the ancient past, test-takers could call ETS customer service and ask for a “test taker advocate.” I don’t know if they were effective advocates, but the position did exist.  It might be time to bring that position back.  Or to create some sort of ombuds position.  As it stands, students with problems like this often appeal to me for advocacy, and I’m feeling pretty helpless right about now.  

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