SAT Cheating Scandal: Are Stakes Getting Too High for College Admission?

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The Educational Testing Service, which administers about 2.3 million SAT tests in a given year, cancels about 1,000 of those scores, primarily because of students copying answers, says spokesman Tom Ewing. Impersonations are extremely rare, he says. Overall, proctors do a good job, and their pay was recently increased, Mr. Ewing adds.

School officials in Great Neck contacted ETS about their suspicions, and after communicating with the six students, ETS decided to cancel their SAT scores. Whether the colleges inquire into the reasons why, or the high school counselors contact the colleges, is up to them, not to ETS, he says.

Anecdotes flowing among students suggest cheating on the SAT may not be as rare as the cases that are caught.

On the website CollegeConfidential.com, a college-admissions forum, posts to a recent discussion thread on SAT cheating included a wide range of examples of how students cheat, including these anonymous comments on impersonation:

• "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."

"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," says Sally Rubenstone, a Massachusetts-based senior advisor with College Confidential, who is quick to note she doesn't condone the cheating.

"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," Ms. Rubenstone says.

About 865 colleges and universities no longer use SAT or ACT scores for most of their admissions decisions, in part to cut down on the pressure surrounding the testing and admissions process, Schaeffer says.

District Attorney Rice said security should be increased around the SATs, with photos being taken of the students who show up to take the test and those photos being attached to the scores, so guidance counselors can quickly spot mismatches.

In some cheating scandals, educators have been the ones caught up in the pressure for high scores – most recently in Atlanta public schools. But in this case, educators can be credited for investigating when they heard rumors about cheating.

Administrators at Great Neck North looked at the scores of students who had taken the test at other schools and had large discrepancies between their academic records and their SAT scores, Rice said.

The DA is also investigating whether such cheating occurred in two other high schools in Nassau County.

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