SAT Cheating Ring Widens on Long Island

PHOTO: Sam Eshaghoff, 19, allegedly charged between $1,500 and $2,500 per student to take the SAT.
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The investigation of an alleged SAT cheating ring that saw the arrest of seven students in September has widened to include five Long Island, N.Y., schools and as many as 20 students suspected of defrauding college admissions exams.

Between 11 and 13 students are expected to turn themselves in Tuesday at the Nassau County District Attorney's office to face charges that they cheated on the SAT and ACT exams, according to DA's spokesman John Byrne.

The charges follow the September bust of a ring allegedly led by college student Sam Eshaghoff, who prosecutors say charged $1,500 to $2,500 to take the tests for younger students.

Byrne said the county identified at least 35 additional students since September who allegedly either paid for someone else to take their entrance exam or were paid by students to take the exam in their stead. The statute of limitations, however, prevents them from prosecuting about 15 of those students, he said.

The remaining students could be prosecuted on felony charges if they took the test for money for a student, in the process falsifying business records and identification documents. The students that paid for the service will face misdeameanors.

Tom Ewing, spokesman for Educational Testing Services, which creates the tests and administers the security protocol for the SAT, said that cheating rings for profit on the SAT are unusual, though each year they do have instances of individual students impersonating one another for the test.

In 2011, 138 scores were canceled after ETS concluded individuals had cheated on the exam. More than 2 million take the test each year, according to the College Board website.

Nassau County prosecutors, however, contend that more should be done to stop the cheating than simply canceling a student's scores. Byrne said today that the district attorney was not interested in criminally prosecuting every student caught cheating, but current practices by the ETS and confusion in legislation governing instances of cheating has lead to a lack of accountability on the part of cheaters. The DA's office hopes for a change in legislation, the spokesman said.

"The DA doesn't want to ruin lives, but this is a high stakes test with systemic problems with security and with disclosure," Byrne said. "What we've learned is, we learned that the colleges are never notified, the high schools are never notified (when students cheat). If ETS knows a student cheated and determines it with certititude, it is never disclosed to high school or college.

"We just want for there to be accountability," Byrne said. "All of us wish this could be handled administratively. We think that high schools and colleges should be notified."

Ewing contends that current New York laws prohibit them from disclosing the information to either institution. When ETS receives a report of cheating -- typically from students or principals -- they investigate the report, and if it's found to be true, cancel the student's scores and hand the information over to the district attorney.

Ewing said ETS had hired a firm led by former FBI director Louis Freeh to determine whether its security procedures were deficient in any way.

In Nassau County in September, District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice decided it was time to prosecute. Eshaghoff, a college student at Emory University, was charged with taking the SAT for at least six students in exchange for money. The students, who were also charged, all knew each other from Great Neck North High School on Long Island.

Now, students from Great Neck South, St. Mary's, Roslyn, and North Shore Hebrew Academy are expected to be charged.

The Great Neck North principal alerted the ETS to suspiciously high scores on certain students' SAT results that did not correspond with the students' school work, Ewing said. The ETS analyzed the handwriting on the tests and discovered the cheating, he said.

Eshaghoff faces up to four years in prison on charges of scheme to defraud in the first degree, falsifying business records in the second degree and criminal impersonation in the second degree.

The students who allegedly paid for Eshaghoff to take their tests were charged with misdemeanors and face up to one year in jail.

Eshaghoff, who is also being investigated for impersonating additional students, will next appear in court on Nov. 28.

Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, has scheduled a news conference at noon Tuesday to discuss the new arrests.

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