SAT, the High and Low Stakes

Emory University student Samuel Eshaghoff was arrested Tuesday for taking the SATs for several Long Island high school students. The Educational Testing Service, the company that administers the test, says this was totally an isolated incident. But the school district apparently disagrees.

According to an article by Jenny Anderson in the New York Times:

[Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen] Rice brought criminal charges against Mr. Eshaghoff and misdemeanor charges against six current and former Great Neck North students who said Mr. Eshaghoff took the test for them. Five of the six said they paid him a fee of up to $2,500. Mr. Eshaghoff has pleaded not guilty. She said she was investigating two other schools and various other test takers. She said the cheating problem was widespread, a sentiment echoed by school administrators and superintendents.

“As tests have become higher-stakes tests, as the competition between kids for scholarships and college entrance has increased, the likelihood of kids looking for ways to beat the system — to cheat — has increased,” said Henry Grishman, superintendent of Jericho Public Schools on Long Island, which has 3,200 students.

That’s because it’s very, very serious if one gets a low score but not at all serious if ETS detects cheating. ETS just lets the student knows it has detected “irregularities” and the score is “withdrawn.” No one is punished.

ETS apparently discovered this problem when it turned out six Long Island students with mediocre grades received very high SAT scores. All of the tests were actually taken by the same person.

Eshaghoff was charged with “scheming to defraud, criminal impersonation, and falsifying business records.”

If this really is a widespread problem, as Grishman says, there are two potential solutions. One is, as the Times article suggests, more security:

School officials and SAT tutors said security at the test, to be administered nationally on Saturday, could be improved: students could be required to take the test at their own school, and the Educational Testing Service could alert schools about test-takers coming from other districts.

The other way to address this, however, would be to simplify, and have the tests matter less in the admissions process. There’s no reason for someone to cheat if cheating won’t get him anything valuable.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer