The recent SAT cheating scandal, in which Sam Eshaghoff, an alumni of Great Neck North High School, was paid by high school students at his alma mater to take their SAT tests for them, has raised many questions regarding high-stakes testing.
The first question raised by this scandalous issue is just how much cheating is going on when it comes to SAT and ACT testing. Since these college admission tests generally play a major role in whether a student gets admitted to a school, as well as the types of grants or other financial aid they are awarded, it probably should not come as a huge surprise that some students are tempted to cheat.
According to a Josephson Institute of Ethics survey of 43,000 students this year, the majority of American students feel that cheating on tests is justified. In fact, 59% of them admitted to cheating on a test during the past year, and 34% admitted to cheating more than two times. Ironically, 92% of the 43,000 students surveyed said they were satisfied with both their character and personal ethics.
Robert Schaeffer, spokesman for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in Boston, Massachusetts, which tracks and critiques standardized tests, said it’s very hard to determine how widespread various forms of cheating are on these tests. He said reports of students sharing answers during the tests were not uncommon due to the fact that the proctors monitoring them are often underpaid and overworked. But he said that prosecutions for impersonations, as in this case, have been very rare.
Tom Ewing, spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, which administers about 2.3 million SAT tests a year, says that about 1,000 scores are canceled every year due primarily to students copying answers. He claimed that test proctors do a good job overall and are better paid recently.
For those of us who still might not believe that testing is taking place, here are some anonymous comments posted on the website CollegeComfidential.com, a college-admission forum, regarding examples of how students are cheating:
• “My school’s valedictorian from last year got 600 dollars for taking the SAT for this other kid who made him a fake school ID.” The valedictorian went to Harvard, the other student went to Amherst College, according to the post.
• “One kid at my school was desperate and paid about $2,000” for an imposter to take the SAT.
• “At my highly competitive school, lots of people (knowing my SAT) have approached me about it, offering hundreds of dollars. Though I have of course refused, it’s clear that someone could easily make thousands of dollars doing so. There’s a massive market of wealthy kids whose parents have deep pockets and high expectations.”
District Attorney Rice suggested beefing up security around the SATs by taking photos of the students who come to take the test and attaching those photos to their scores so that guidance counselors would be able to spot discrepancies.
The second concern raised by this scandal is the pressure a single test places on students to score well, since it plays such a big role in determining their academic future, and whether that pressure is actually encouraging them to cheat.
Schaeffer commented on the scandal at the wealthy community of Great Neck, saying that the fact that the scandal played out there “is an illustration of the SAT arms race that takes place, particularly in very affluent towns where kids think they are failures unless they go to a school where their parents would be proud to put the bumper sticker in their back window.”
Massachusetts-based senior advisor with College Confidential, Sally Rubenstone, said, “This emphasis on test prepping goes hand in hand with the escalating cheating, and the pressure these kids feel to do well on the tests … makes kids feel cheating is necessary. If any good comes out of this [arrest], it’s to send admission officials back to the drawing board to design a process that is fairer.”
As a matter of fact, Schaeffer says about 865 colleges and universities have ceased using SAT or ACT scores for most of the decisions they make regarding admission, in part to cut down on the pressure that students feel regarding the testing and admissions process.
But according to Michael Josephson, the founder and president of Josephson Institute, “The real question is, as a society do we really want to take this seriously or only deal with it when people are unlucky enough to get caught? We’re raising the next generation of corporate villains and pirates if we don’t reinforce with vigor and consistency the absolute essentiality of integrity.”
I tend to agree with Josephson. I understand that pressure can make people do things they would not ordinarily do, but cheating is cheating. And how many colleges would want to admit students who have rationalized that it’s okay to cheat if the pressure is too consuming? If they’ll cheat on the SATs or ACTs, they’ll cheat in college, too.
The lesson to learn here is that cheating has serious consequences no matter what the reason or situation.