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Local High School Student Fights ACT Cheating Allegation

BOSTON (CBS) - A local high school student is accused of cheating on a national standardized test needed to get into most colleges. It happens more often than you think.

But, in cases like this, the student is guilty until proven innocent.

"I just couldn't believe it because that was something I would never do," said Danielle Kwatcher of Dover. Cheat on an exam that is, but Danielle was accused of just that when her results on the ACT, a college admissions exam, soared the second time she took it.

"It is an awful feeling because you know you did not do it and people are accusing you and threatening to take back the scores," she says.

Last March she got a letter from the ACT headquarters in Iowa. It never mentioned the word "cheating."  Instead, test security personnel were threatening to cancel out her new higher score because they were questioning whether her answers were obtained by her "own independent effort" because Danielle's test had a "high number of identical responses" to a person sitting near her.

ACT says the chance of this was, in their opinion,"extremely small."

Monty Neill is the Executive Director of Fair Test, an organization highly critical of national standardized tests.

"You are guilty until proven innocent," says Neill. "It is sort of like the old witch trials."

Neill says students like Danielle, regardless of their guilt or innocence, face an uphill battle against the large testing companies.

Neill says, "They are in effect the police investigator, the prosecutor, they are the judge, they are the jury, they are the appeals court and they are the executioner."

ACT says 1.8 million students take the ACT each year. While ACT will not release any data regarding questionable results, it is estimated 2,500 students are flagged for cheating, and of that, perhaps a 1,000 end up having their scores cancelled.

ACT says they take that action only when it is supported by compelling data. For example, in Danielle's case, she had 40 identical answers to a person sitting near her.

"What if it was someone else (cheating off me)?" Danielle says. "There could be so many different scenarios getting the same letter answer."

Not only were the correct answers identical, but incorrect answers were identical as well.

"I don't have a snappy answer, but things happen," says Mark Kwatcher, Danielle's father.

"Does that mean she copied? No. Does that mean another person copied her? No."

Danielle appealed the decision by the ACT and lost, cancelling her higher score. She turned down an offer to retake the test (for a third time) at ACT expense at another location. Luckily, she had already decided to attend a college which did not require the ACT scores.

ACT also offers students like Danielle the option of asking for an arbitrator to decide their case but ACT would not say how many students actually choose that route.


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