New York’s SAT/ACT cheating scandal seems to be growing exponentially as more and more students are being arrested for either taking the standardized tests for other students or paying students who have already graduated to take their SAT/ACT tests for them.
The scandal began to unravel in September with the arrests of seven students including Samuel Eshaghoff, 19, who allegedly impersonated other high school students taking their SAT tests for them for a fee of $1,500 to $2,500. In one incident, Eshaghoff allegedly posed as a girl. All seven were arrested. Eshaghoff was charged with felony fraud, and the other six were charged with misdemeanors. Not surprisingly, they have all pleaded not guilty to these charges.
Since September, an ongoing investigation in Nassau County has uncovered the existence of a much larger number of students involved in this SAT/ACT cheating scandal, leading Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice to make the following statement on Tuesday:
“In September, my office arrested 7 current and former students from Great Neck North High School for taking part in a high stakes, high dollar scheme to cheat on the SATs. Our investigation has uncovered more than 40 students who either took a standardized test for someone else or paid someone to take the test for them. And today I am announcing the arrests of 13 more students for their roles in the cheating scandal.”
“These arrests include 4 students who took the tests for others, and they will be charged with scheme to defraud in the first degree, criminal impersonation in the second degree, and falsifying business records in the first degree. Nine students are being charged with a misdemeanor offense for paying someone else to take the SAT or ACT for them.”
“These young men and women made choices that impacted their families, their schools, most importantly their fellow students, and their futures. These arrests, I hope, will ensure that they are held accountable for those choices, while shining a light on this broken system so that it can be fixed.”
The growing scandal is centered on a group of Long Island communities with top-ranked schools. It has many questioning both the security of these tests as well as the intense pressure in these communities to do well on these tests, at any cost.
New York state lawmakers have convened a hearing to discuss test security, and exam administrators have retained a firm run by former FBI Director Louis Freeh to review standardized test procedures.
“Honest, hardworking students are taking a back seat to the cheaters,” Kathleen Rice said. “This is a system begging for security enhancements.”
Rice suggested a possible short-term solution which could eliminate cheating; taking photos of the students as they take the tests and attaching these to their answer documents. This simple yet effective method could go far in eliminating most of the cheating, especially the most blatant. Whatever method is decided upon, clearly it is imperative that test proctors be able to guarantee that the individuals taking these tests are who they claim to be.
In a region where schools have a reputation of producing students who are high-performers, with an average graduation rate that exceeds 97 percent, where most students plan on attending college, and SAT scores are well above the national average (according to Great Neck North High School’s website) is it any wonder that high school students are feeling intense pressure to perform exceptionally on the SAT and ACT? Is the expectation by these communities’ schools and parents so high that they are subtly encouraging students to do whatever it takes, even if that means cheating, to reach their goal?
Robin Tobin-Hess, a resident of Great Neck was not surprised when she heard the latest allegations of cheating. “I’m not surprised. I think there’s too much emphasis by the colleges on the SATs. Kids are under a lot of pressure to do well and in affluent areas, they’re going to do what they can to do it,” she said.
Social worker, Shawn Eshaghian, claims that cheating is not just occurring in Great Neck, although he agrees that it is probably easier to accomplish it there. He explained, “A lot of people that have money are in this community, and I’m sure the $2,500, as much as it was big money, especially for a kid, I’m sure their parents give them whatever they want anyway.”
While I am fairly certain that parents are not condoning cheating or outright encouraging it, it is pretty obvious that we would not be reading about this scandal if these kids didn’t feel some pretty intense pressure to produce appropriate scores in order to get into highly respectable colleges and universities.
Finally, this scandal has spurred a healthy debate as to whether these students who are involved in the cheating should be facing criminal charges or whether their alleged involvement in cheating should be handled by the schools they are enrolled in.
Brian Griffin, an attorney for two of the defendants said, “You’re talking about students cheating on tests. You’re not talking about violent crime. You’re not talking about drugs. No one condones, but it does not belong in the criminal justice system.”
Attorney Michael DerGarabedian agreed, stating, “When we glorify Wall Street guys who make money cheating and baseball players who take steroids, how can we condemn kids trying to achieve that same success?”
It seems to me that this scandal points to a frightening tendency in our society to rationalize that honesty and ethics can be sacrificed if the cause is great enough. Somehow, these young people heard the wrong message along the way, at school or at home, or maybe in both places. The message they learned was that success is measured by outward appearances, whether earned or bought; where you live, the grades you get, the school you attend, the job you take…
But none of these are the true measure of a man. It is about how you live; your integrity, your commitment to do your best for yourself and for others, your willingness to give back along the way, your perseverance and dedication to fulfill your goals, your desire to leave this world a better place for having been here. No one can do these things for you, no matter how much you can afford to pay.
Rice stated, “Educating our children means more than teaching them facts and figures. It means teaching them honesty, integrity and a sense of fair play. The young men and women arrested today instead chose to scam the system and victimize their own friends and classmates, and for that they find themselves in handcuffs.”
Missed lessons. Missed opportunities. And so many young lives forever changed as a result.