The SAT Cheating Scandal – What the %$@#?
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The SAT Cheating Scandal – What the %$@#?

As the parent of a high school senior and a junior, I am both fascinated and horrified by the SAT cheating scandal that was recently discovered on Long Island. 

In case you haven’t seen it in the news, last month six students at Great Neck North High School were arrested for allegedly each paying Samuel Eshaghoff (a graduate of the high school and now a senior at Emory University) $2,500 to take the SAT in their place.

In the weeks that followed, the “sting operation” widened, resulting in a total of 20 arrests of young people from Great Neck North and four other schools. The accused included current Long Island high school students and several college students who were paid up to $3,500 to take the test for them.

In the six articles I found on this topic in The New York Times, plenty of ink was spent on school officials’ and local politicians’ castigation of the College Board and the Educational Testing Service (which administers the SAT).  The principal of Great Neck North, Bernard Kaplan, said, “The procedures ETS uses to give the test are grossly inadequate in terms of security.”  Probably true.  He went on to describe cheating on the SAT as “inevitable.”

State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle added, “Sadly, the losers in this are the honest, hard-working students who play by the rules: they prepare for this like the Super Bowl.”  Also true, if completely warped – why has a test been infused with this kind of life-and-death importance?  The Super Bowl?  Going through the college application process for the first time with our oldest son, I have seen up-close the hysteria the SAT can create in some circles; this could be another article in itself.

But back to the SAT cheating scandal.  Administrators, school board officials and politicians rushed to blame the College Board and the ETS.  Parents, meanwhile, were eager to lash out at school administrators:  Superintendent Geoffrey Gordon of the Port Washington schools said that when he needed to verify a student’s identity at one SAT exam, the mother “chewed my head off.”

In the stampede to blame the school administrators and the College Board – who no doubt bear some responsibility and clearly need to improve the security surrounding such high-stakes tests – I can’t help wondering about the cheating students themselves and their parents.

Who are these cheating kids?  What 17-year-old would get into his or her head that the best way to deal with the pressure of taking the SAT is by having someone else do it for you?  It would no sooner occur to me nor any of my three boys to pay someone else to take a test in their place than it would to rob a bank.  (Just to be clear, it would not occur to us in a million years to rob a bank.)

And more importantly, what about the parents?  Someone has planted the notion in the heads of these cheating kids that the result of the SAT is so life-altering, so central to their future trajectory in life, that they need to succeed at all costs – and I don’t just mean the $3,500.  I’m talking about the complete abdication of their moral compasses.

But just for a second, can we go back to the money?  Where did the $2,500-$3,500 come from for these payments?  I don’t know about your kids, but none of mine have that kind of spending money in their pockets.  This question also went completely without mention in any of the Times articles.

Yes, the college application process in the 21st century is warped; it’s hyper-competitive to an insane degree.  And yes, in certain parts of the country (the New York Metropolitan area, for sure, in addition to the Bay Area, where I live) the competition is especially intense and the stakes seemingly higher.  But there is absolutely no excuse for this apparent lack of conscience, the complete absence of a moral center.

If kids in high school can cheat themselves into college, where does that leave these kids (and those around them) when they are finally funneled into the “real world,” eventually becoming doctors or teachers or lawyers or architects or, God forbid, politicians representing us or “managers” of our money and retirement accounts?  It is sad and terrifying to contemplate.

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