‘ETS DIDN’T REALLY WANT TO CHANGE, AND WE HAD REAL ISSUES’
Halfway through the study, at the end of 2002, he created four study groups to examine together with ETS such issues as next-generation technology for the exam, global reach, test security and customer service. “But the next generation group kicked it down the road like a tin can. We decided this wasn’t looking very good and we better put an RFP (request for a proposal) out (to other contractors). They didn’t want to change, and we had real issues.”
What troubled Wilson more than any other issue was the security of the test. “Without a doubt one of the most important things we do is provide schools with the assurance that the candidate who shows up on campus is the same candidate who took the test,” says Wilson. “Test security ranks way up there. If somebody gets into a program with a score earned by somebody else, they’ve taken a seat away from another person who could have gotten there legitimately.”
In 2003, as GMAC’s study of ETS and its procedures continued, the biggest scandal in the history of the GMAT erupted. A New York-based ring of five men and a woman were arrested for taking the test hundreds of times on behalf of other test takers in exchange for money. Federal and state investigators would ultimately find that between January of 2001 and July of 2003, they sat for a total of 590 exams administered by ETS. The scam was revealed due to a tip that led to the ringleader, Chinese-born Lu Xu, being filmed on camera at a test center in Columbia, MD, not far from GMAC’s headquarters then in Tysons Corner, VA.
A TESTING SCANDAL WAS THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL’S BACK
“He was testing as himself in this case, and he was trying to capture questions with a camera velcroed underneath the desk,” recalls Wilson. “We got his hard drive and discovered that he and a cadre of proxy test takers would take the exam up and down the northeast,” recalls Wilson. “He (Xu) took it 160 odds times, sometimes for a lady, when he wore a bad wig, and sometimes for a man. He took the test with a forged driver’s license or a passport.”
Quickly, however, a conflict arose between Wilson and ETS officials over how to handle the problem. “ETS wanted to send a standard neutral test cancellation score letter to the schools,” says Wilson. “Scores get canceled for all kinds of reasons. You could have a brown out. You could have a tech failure. You could have somebody spill Pepsi on a keyboard, or you could have a candidate get sick partway through the test. But they would not change the letter for us to explain why these candidates had their scores canceled.”
Furious, Wilson says he personally called the deans of every business school to which the scores were sent and told them the truth. He explained how Xu and his friends were caught and how the scores for the 160 applicants—retrieved from Xu’s computer hard drive–were bogus. “One dean said that is fascinating,” says Wilson. “We are just now in our boot camp and we can’t figure why this one guy who scored well on the test is struggling so much on the easy stuff. Another guy was doing a summer internship for the dean on ethics.” All of the suspected cheaters weren’t corralled, however, because of a lack of evidence.