Cheating Scandal Rocks the SAT

The SAT is facing harsh criticism following the arrests for cheating of seven former and current students from an affluent Long Island high school. The scale of the cheating ring has exposed the ease with which students can fake their identity when taking the SAT. While SAT organizers scramble to improve security, many school administrators are arguing that they aren't going far enough.

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By Jeff Calareso

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Scandal in Great Neck

In September, police in New York's Nassau County arrested six students from Great Neck North High School and one former student, a 19-year-old named Sam Eshaghoff, who was attending Emory University. The six students allegedly paid Eshaghoff between $1,500 and $2,500 each to take the SAT in their place. Faculty at the school had been tipped off by a rumor of impersonations; they then found significant discrepancies between the students' SAT scores and their regular academic performance.

The students initially succeeded in the deception by registering for the SAT at a different school than their own. This enabled Eshaghoff to use a fake ID with the each student's name and his own picture. Because he took the test at a school other than Great Neck North High School, the test proctors weren't familiar with the students or the imposter. While the students face misdemeanor charges, Eshaghoff could be sentenced to as many as four years in prison if convicted.

Increased Security Looming

In response to the scandal, the College Board and Educational Testing Service (ETS), the creators and administrators of the SAT, have vowed to enhance security. Their highest-profile gesture has been hiring Freeh Group International Solutions to consult. That group is headed by Louis J. Freeh, a former director of the FBI.

In late October, College Board president Gaston Caperton announced that new security measures would begin with the November SAT. Initial steps will include a closer examination of test scores for irregularities, such as unusually large improvements by a student from one test to the next. The College Board has also pledged to increase training for test center supervisors. Other possible security measures include raising the number of forms of identification that are required from one to two and taking digital photographs of all students as they enter the test site in order to verify their identity.

How Common Is SAT Cheating?

While the gestures by the College Board have been welcomed, their sincerity in pursuing cheaters has been questioned. When the scandal first broke, ETS claimed that cheating on the SAT is extremely rare and that this was an isolated case. Since then, more details on the scope of SAT cheating have emerged.

ETS spends approximately $25 million on security each year, or ten percent of their budget for College Board exams. Of the more than two million tests taken annually, around 3,000 are cancelled for cheating, most often due to suspected copying. ETS is now reporting that about 150 impersonations are discovered each year, while an additional 750 students are turned away from testing sites for suspected impersonations. They haven't released an estimate on how often impersonators might be succeeding, though school officials believe the Great Neck scandal is just the tip of the iceberg.

In the wake of the scandal, school officials have become more vocal with the accusations of lax standards by ETS. They complain that schools are left out of security discussions. They also point to the ability of students to take the SAT at different schools as a major security flaw.

There have been calls for a variety of more dramatic changes than what the College Board has proposed. These include better pay for proctors, who currently receive just $75 per day. Also, critics of ETS have suggested fingerprinting test-takers and increasing the consequences for cheaters. Currently, students who cheat have their scores cancelled, but they can take the test again and their cheating isn't reported to schools where they apply. While such measures may repair the image of the SAT, the Great Neck scandal seems to have caused serious damage to its credibility and reputation.

This latest scandal has renewed criticism of the SAT, though many have long questions how much the SAT and ACT should count in admissions decisions

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