British Columbia

Lax rules could have allowed impostors to write B.C.'s high school exam, expert says

Experts say there were "certainly" loopholes that could have allowed students to cheat on their provincial exams, but those gaps are considerably smaller since the education ministry tightened identification rules in 2014.

Harder to get into a bar than a provincial exam before ID rules changed in 2014

David Sidoo is accused of paying an American exam preparation specialist to write a provincial high school test in B.C. on behalf of his son. (CBC)

Security around writing high school exams in B.C. has been questioned since a wealthy Vancouver businessman, David Sidoo, was implicated in a nationwide cheating scandal that exploded in the United States earlier this week.

Experts say there were "certainly" loopholes that could once have allowed students to cheat on their provincials by arranging to have someone else write their test for them, but those holes are considerably smaller since the Education Ministry tightened identification rules in 2014.

One of the allegations against Sidoo, prosecutors say, is that he paid an undisclosed amount of money to have someone — who would have been about 30 years old — take a "Canadian high school graduation exam" for Sidoo's elder son in June 2012.

An indictment said Mark Riddell, an exam-prep advisor at a high school in Florida, flew to Vancouver and used a fake ID to write the test.

Mark Riddell worked as an exam-prep adviser at a prestigious sports-oriented high school in Florida until he was suspended in light of a nationwide college admissions scandal in the United States. He's accused of writing three exams — two SATs and a high school graduation test — for two sons of a Vancouver-based businessman. (IMG Academy)

Back in 2012, experts say it's possible someone could have showed up to an exam as a walk-in student.

"If I went into the school and I said, I'm [so-and-so,] and I have fake ID that says I'm [so-and-so], you're not going to get the level of scrutiny that you would, let's say, as a 18-year-old trying to get into a nightclub," said Sam Muraca, district principal for Educational Planning at  Langley's School District 35 in B.C.

"The system isn't really set up to prevent that. The system is set up, really, to keep the honest people honest."

In 2012, according to the B.C. Ministry of Education, "there were no ministry directives in place regarding ID being required for provincial assessments." Students only needed their personal education number (PEN).

David Sidoo, a Vancouver-based businessman, philanthropist and notable alumnus from the University of British Columbia, has been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud in a college admissions bribery scandal in the United States. (davidsidoo.com)

That changed in 2014. Now students who aren't known to exam administration staff must provide one piece of government-issued photo ID from a selected list of acceptable options as well as their PEN.

Students without sufficient ID aren't allowed in exam rooms.

Sidoo pleaded not guilty to fraud charges in federal court in Boston on Friday. He was released on $1.5 million secured bond and a statement from his legal team said he planned to return home to Canada.

An indictment from U.S. prosecutors doesn't go into further detail about where and when Riddell allegedly wrote the Sidoo exam, beyond saying it happened in Vancouver in June 2012.

Sidoo's sons went to St. George's School, a top-tier private high school in Vancouver. In a statement this week, the institution said it reviewed its records from 2012 and found no indication that school or provincial exams were written by Sidoo, or anyone going by his name, on or around the date referenced by the indictment.

Muraca said the vast majority of provincial exams written in B.C. are conducted at students' own schools where administrators and classmates would spot an impostor with ease. He said it's the walk-in exams, or exams written months after a student graduates, that pose a risk.

That said, Muraca thinks the level of cheating alleged in the indictment against Sidoo would be extremely unusual.

"There are, I think, some cracks, but I don't think they're major cracks," he said.

David Sidoo has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud for his alleged role in the cheating scheme, which revolves around a consultant in California allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy parents to help cheat the system and boost their children's chances of getting into elite universities.

Sidoo has also been accused of paying $200,000 to have Riddell write SATs for his sons, in addition to the high school exam.

Multiple statements from Sidoo's legal team this week have reiterated their client, also a former Canadian Football League athlete and notable donor to the University of British Columbia, is innocent until proven guilty.

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