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SAT Cheating Scandal Is a Low Point in High School Student Ethics

Cheaters Cheat, Honest kids are Harmed, and the Reliability of the SAT is Questioned

Perhaps you saw the 60 Minutes segment last Sunday about Sam Eshaghoff, the Great Neck Long Isalnd, New York, student, now at Emory University, who officials said was paid to take tests for other kids. You can watch a one-minute snipet from the show by clicking on the CBS video in the above link.

In the interview with Alison Stewart, Eshaghoff rationalized his unethical actions with statements like this one:

“My whole clientele were based on word of mouth and like a referral system”. A kid who has a horrible grade-point average, who, no matter how much he studies is going to totally bomb this test”. By giving him an amazing score, I totally give him … a new lease on life. He’s going to go to a totally new college … be bound for a totally new career … new path in life”.

First of all, how can someone who uses so many “totally” words in a sentence be so smart that other kids pay him to take the SAT for them? I’m totally baffled by it. 

Here is more from the interview with our anti-hero who admitted to hearing the notion that deserving students are being left out of those colleges as a result of his fraud.

 “[I] really wasn’t displacing somebody … I feel confident defending the fact that [my clients] getting into the schools that they ended up getting into didn’t really affect other people”. [He] regrets the shame his arrest caused his family and says “if he could start over, he never would have done it”. [Yeah, right. They all say that after being caught].

Eshaghoff accepted up to $2,500 from other students -- per student that is -- to take their tests using easily manufactured fake IDs. His scam came crashing down in fall 2011, when he was arrested for criminal impersonation and fraud.

Later in the interview program Stewart asked Kurt Landgraf, the president of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) that administers the SAT, whether it is easy to cheat on the SAT. Landgraf said “no”. All I can say is OMG! He needs to get his head out of the sand.

Landgraf admitted to discovering 150 impersonators last year who, like Eshaghoff, simply manufactured an ID to take the test for others. I figure if he admits to 150, the real number is closer to 1,500. He said that three million students take the SAT every year. His organization spends $11 million on SAT test security annually. I don’t know about you but his blasé attitude worries me. This is the guy who is in charge of SAT security and he dismisses at least 150 cheating incidents as being immaterial to the overall reliability of the Exam.

It seems to me even one cheat is one too many. We’re talking about basic ethical standards. Honesty is a virtue. Trustworthiness is an essential value in a test like the SAT. Fairness to other students who take the test using their own skills is compromised by the cheats. How would you like it if your son or daughter was denied admission to their college of choice because someone got in as a result of Eshaghoff’s fraudulent results?

You may be wondering how Eshaghoff pulled off the scam. He simply made a high school ID; one of six forms of identification accepted at SAT testing centers. Here is another pearl of wisdom by Eshaghoff:

A school ID is what? Like what is that? It's like, it's some colors with literally a name and picture on it. So what I would do is, I took the template from my high school ID, pasted my picture on top of it, and whatever person's name whose test I was taking, I would have their name and date of birth on it. And it was really as easy as that.

Like wow, is all I can say, Sam. Seriously? I can’t believe it is so easy to cheat on an exam that is so widely used by colleges and universities. As a college professor I am shocked by this incident.

The investigation of the cheaters is ongoing. As of last November, at least 35 students remained under investigation; several had been charged. Criminal defense attorney Robert Gallo who represents one of the charged students made one of the more ethically-challenged comments about this incident. He admitted to being stunned at the ongoing court action. “The student that I represent went on with his life on the supposition that this matter was behind him.” Gallo said, adding that his client is currently in college.

How do we make sense out of the whole Eshaghoff cheating affair? Some blame parents for putting too much pressure on their kids to get into the best schools. Others blame peer groups and the pressure, especially in a wealthy community with high achieving parents like Great Neck, NY, to get into Ivy League Schools. I blame Eshaghoff and the kids who hired him to cheat. They need to accept personal responsibility for their actions. How will they learn that there are consequences for violating the rules, breaking the law, and acting immorally if they are not punished?

Oh, and in case you are wondering, a perfect SAT score is 2400. Eshaghoff scored between 2140 and 2220 for the students. Over the course of nearly three years, he took the SAT over and over again, consistently scoring in the 97th percentile or higher for the students he called his "clients."

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 4, 2012