updated 2/20/2008 7:23:40 PM ET 2008-02-21T00:23:40

The owner of the SAT and PSAT exams sued a Dallas-area test-preparation company Wednesday, accusing it of trying to give its customers an unfair edge on the tests by illegally obtaining "live" copies to help students practice.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Dallas, alleges that the Karen Dillard College Prep company got a copy of the PSAT administered last October from a Plano, Texas, high school principal whose brother works at the company.

The lawsuit brought by the New York-based College Board, alleging copyright infringement, could bring attention to the burgeoning test-prep industry, which some critics contend gives well-off students an unfair advantage on entrance exams.

"We are outraged by the deceptive and unlawful tactics, knowingly practiced by KDCP," said Edna Johnson, senior vice president of the College Board, a not-for-profit membership group of high schools, colleges and educational groups.

"Most distressing to us is that students and their parents put their faith in this expensive prep process that was ultimately based on stealing the College Board's work product," she said.

A message left at the company's office requesting comment from the defendants — owners Karen and David Dillard, and executive director Matthew Novotny — was returned by Karen Dillard.

She said she had not seen the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

According to the lawsuit, Novotny obtained a copy of the PSAT administered Oct. 17 from his brother, Michael Novotny, the principal of T.C. Jasper High School in Plano.

The PSAT is generally taken by younger students as practice for the SAT. It is also used to select National Merit Scholarship recipients.

Reached by telephone at his office, Michael Novotny, who is not named as a defendant, declined to comment.

The SAT is administered seven times per year, and questions and portions of the exam are sometimes reused. The exams are considered "live" until they are officially retired. Test-site administrators are instructed to collect all test forms and lock them away.

Whistle-blower comes forward
The lawsuit also claims the company sold or tried to sell some copyrighted materials to another test-prep company and even to unspecified Texas school districts.

According to its Web site, KDCP has campuses in Dallas, Plano and Colleyville, Texas, and according to the lawsuit charges as much as $2,299 for test prep services. Johnson said the College Board was approached by a whistle-blower inside the company.

Johnson declined to speculate on whether the scores of KDCP customers would in fact be canceled, but confirmed that the College Board has done so in the past when it has come across SAT tutors with access to improper materials.

However, "We have never come across a test-prep company that appears to have based its entire SAT and PSAT curriculum on stolen materials," she said. The lawsuit alleges the company was well aware of the copyright infringements, referring to test material as the "PVA," which stood for "Pirated Version."

The allegations come as some express alarm about the rapidly expanding test-prep industry, which capitalizes on the sometimes frantic anxiety students and parents feel about applying to college.

The College Board maintains that students don't necessarily need an expensive preparation course. It recommends they prepare by taking practice tests, some of which are available for free on its Web site.

In 2006, the College Board endured a wave of bad publicity after it was disclosed that several thousand exams had been scored improperly by a subcontractor.

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