Time-zone cheating on admissions tests caught

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    SYRENE KOON

    The American Test Center, owned by George Kobayashi, advertised a unique method of preparing students for admission tests for a cost of $6,000, according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York.

    An undercover investigation revealed time-zone cheating on the Educational Testing Service’s Graduate Management Admissions Test and Test of English as a Foreign Language.

    The scheme was operated by a team of expert test-takers who took the exams in New York City under assumed names, memorized questions and answers and then telephoned the correct answers to Kobayashi’s office in Los Angeles. The answers were stamped onto pencils in code and given to the students prior to taking the test, said an official from the attorney general’s office.

    Clients of the American Test Center were instructed to fly to Los Angles to take the exam, where they were divided into small groups and transported to various test sites around the Los Angeles area so that high scores would not be concentrated in one test site and raise suspicion.

    “Count one of the complaint states that expert test-takers used a P.O. Box address issued in Kobayashi’s name when they applied to take the test. The admission ticket was sent to this P.O. Box,” said Mark A. Godsey, assistant U.S. attorney and prosecution for Kobayashi’s case. “Mail fraud and wire fraud are a federal offense.”

    Kobayashi was arrested Saturday in El Monte, Calif., on fraud charges. The criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court charges that Kobayashi operated his time-zone cheating scheme since November 1993.

    The scam was apparently witnessed by an undercover federal investigator who employed Kobayashi’s services and flew to Los Angeles to take the GMAT administered on Oct. 19.

    This investigation shows that Educational Testing Service is serious about protecting the integrity of its tests, said Kevin Gonzalez, spokesman for ETS. The organization is working on preventative measures and was happy to work with federal authorities in order to investigate fraud, he said.

    Kaplan Educational Center, a preparatory course for admission tests, believes that ETS is not doing enough to prevent cheating and fraud from recurring.

    “Time-zone cheating previously occurred in 1991 and can be prevented by staggering the tests so that all of the time zones are taking it at the same time. The order of questions and the order of specific answers could also be jumbled so that time-zone cheating does not recur,” said Seppi Basili, director of educational programs at Kaplan Educational Center in New York City. “Another possibility would be to give different tests in the different time zones.”

    If convicted, Kobayashi faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on each of the two counts of mail and wire fraud and a maximum fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice his gross gain from the scheme, said Godsey.

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