INTERNET may have helped spread placement test question

Wednesday, May 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Some high school students may have had an advance look at an essay question from a college placement exam taken this month, according to the Educational Testing Service, which is investigating the security breach.

School officials alerted the testing company to the problem after receiving reports from students that the question from the Advanced Placement U.S. History exam was posted on the Internet on the evening of May 10, the night before the test.

The history exam is among several taken by students enrolled in college-level courses while still in high school. On each test, the essay question counts for nearly a quarter of a student's score.

``The rumor is that it has been shared somewhere, and we're trying to determine among whom and how widely,'' ETS spokesman Tom Ewing told The Associated Press. ``We really have not reached any decisions about it because the investigation is still ongoing.''

Ewing said ETS, which is based in Princeton, N.J., and administers college entrance exams, had been investigating for about a week. He said the company still didn't know how many people may have had the advance information.

``When cases like this come up, no matter how it happens _ whether a student gets an advance look or a book disappears or walks _ we respond pretty quickly. We go out to schools,'' Ewing said Tuesday.

While Ewing wouldn't comment on which schools or regions of the country were the focus of the investigation, he said having students take retests is an option under consideration, depending on results of the investigation.

About 176,000 students took the history test in 1999, the last year for which information was available, according to ETS.

The Internet appears to be the source for many of the rumors that prompted the probe.

``Our kids apparently heard about it, and when they reported to us that something seemed to be up, we contacted the ETS,'' said Ellis Turner, assistant headmaster at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington.

Turner said no ``inappropriate behavior'' had occurred at his school involving the test, but he was still bothered about the bigger picture. ``This was on the Internet, and it compromised the test for all students across the United States,'' he said.

An Internet message board on the Web site for The Princeton Review, a test preparation service, has been buzzing with comments alleging that the test question was posted there after some students took the test early.

Corey Podolsky, executive producer of the Web site, said that despite the talk, a search of the site found no evidence the test question had been posted.

``We encourage people to talk about tests and ask questions about tests, but as soon as they post actually copyrighted test questions, we reserve the right to delete that content,'' he said, noting that it hadn't been necessary in this case because there was no inappropriate information.

He added, jokingly: ``We weren't able to help any students improve their score through that method.''