SAT Creators Will Depend on Tiny Little Photos to End Cheating on the Test
A major scandal erupted in the fall of 2011, when 20 high school students from four different school districts in Nassau County, New York, were arrested for cheating on the SAT and ACT exams. Fifteen of them were accused of hiring other students to take the tests for them. The other five were accused of taking the tests for students who had paid them to do so.
Shortly after the scandal hit, it was big news. Here’s what you will learn if you watch a story about it that was run on the CBS news program 60 Minutes:
- A 19-year-old man named Sam Eshaghoff, who graduated from Great Neck North High School on Long Island, took the SAT as many as 16 times fraudulently, for other students. He consistently scored in the top 97th percentile on the test.
- Eshaghoff was paid as much as $2,500 to take each test. Once, he got an extra $1,100 “tip” from a student after he achieved a high score; that raised his earnings to $3,600 for taking only one SAT.
- Once, two students got into a “bidding war” and competed for Eshaghoff’s services on one SAT test date.
- Eshaghoff stated that all he had to do in order to gain entry to take SAT tests fraudulently was to create a fake high school ID card. He simply placed his own photo over the real student’s, left all other data on the card unaltered, and had the fake ID card laminated.
- The fact that some students were hiring professional test-takers was an “open secret” at Great Neck North High School. There were even professional brokers to connect students to professionals who could take the SAT and ACT tests for them.
- Eshaghoff was coy about saying that parents had paid for his services. “Maybe it came from their parents?” he said rather stupidly to the 60 Minutes interviewer.
- Eshaghoff’s cover was finally blown when several students achieved surprisingly high scores on tests, were questioned, and confessed that they had hired him to take the test.
And Now, the Proposed Solution . . .
On March 27, 2012, The College Board (which sells and administers the SAT) announced that a number of measures will be implemented in school year 2012-13 to discourage the use of fraudulent test-takers. Here are some highlights . . .
- Students will be required to submit a current photo when registering for the test. That image will then be imprinted on the admission ticket that students must present before entering a testing center.
- Standby same-day test registration will no longer be permitted at SAT test centers. Students will have to register ahead of time, and submit those photos.
- Test center supervisors will have access to a printable online register of the photos that students uploaded when they registered for the test. When students arrive at the center, a visual match will be made between the student, the photo that appears on his or her admission ticket, and the photo provided by the College Board.
- Multiple ID checks will be conducted. The photo ID card will be checked when the student arrives at the test center; before he or she enters the testing room; when he or she reenters the testing room after breaks; and when the answer sheet is collected at the end of the test.
- When high schools receive SAT score reports from the College Board, each score report will be accompanied by that same photo of the student. Hopefully, high school guidance counselors will review the score reports, look at those pictures, and verify that no paid test-taker had been used. As a further safeguard, colleges that receive score reports will have a means to see those photos and match them to students at interviews and other points of contact, if they choose to do so.
The Only Problem Is . . .
The College Board’s preventative measures will discourage some cheating. The only problem is – and the College Board must realize this – they will not put an end to dishonesty. In fact, the new rules might not make a big dent in the problem at all. The measures concentrate only on stopping the use of false identities, and seem to do little to address other forms of cheating.
If the College Board really wanted to end cheating, not just make it more difficult, here are some measures it could implement . . .
- Require senior school administrators to be in the room during the test. Also, take videos of students in test rooms as they take the test. Let’s face the fact that students – for years – have been developing ways to cheat in testing rooms. Some talk to each other when proctors are looking the other way. Others simply copy their answers from other students. And there are other techniques for cheating too, like sending physical signals (taps of a pen, head nods, taps of a foot or an elbow) to communicate question numbers and correct answers.
- Make sure that students who sit in adjacent seats are not given the same test. If a number of different tests are spread through a testing room, cheating is discouraged.
- Provide standardized graphing calculators to test-takers instead of allowing them to use their own. Individual graphing calculators can be pre-programmed with functions that give some students a leg up when answering certain types of questions. Some students have even arrived at testing centers with small decals that they can apply to the displays of their calculators that help solve certain SAT problems. Providing the same calculators to all test-takers would help prevent this problem. (Note that students are already not allowed to bring cell phones into test facilities.)
- Impose some real penalties on the parents of students who cheat. Personally, I think that parents who pay professional test-takers to ace tests for their children are beneath contempt and should be charged with a criminal offense. But barring that, the College Board should threaten cheaters and their parents with real retribution. The names of cheaters could be placed on a “black list” database that colleges could refer to, for example. Or unlike now, the College Board could threaten to inform a college if a student is found to be a cheater, even after he or she has started studying there. Or parents could be required to sign an agreement that would make them subject to legal action if their children are found to be cheating on the test.
It’s all another indication that the standardized testing industry has gone terribly wrong and is imposing extreme and unnecessary pressures on students who are only doing their best to get into college. A growing number of colleges are now test-optional. Good idea, right? Maybe someday, the flawed SAT and other standardized tests will simply go away.
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