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N.Y. Prosecutor: Better SAT Exam Security is Needed

MINEOLA N.Y. — The administrators of college entrance exams should make immediate security changes to stop cheating, said the prosecutor who has accused a college student of using a fake ID to take exams for six of his buddies. One friend was a girl.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice told The Associated Press on Thursday that she suspected cheating was widespread and that security changes should be implemented as soon as this weekend, when nearly 700,000 students are expected to take the SATs.

“If we don’t send the message to these kids now,” she said, “they’re going to be the future corrupt politicians, the corrupt CEOs, the corrupt accountants, because they’re going to say, ‘Look I did this when I was 17, and I got a slap on the wrist. Cheating pays.’”

Rice suggested that all students should have their photographs taken when they arrive at a school to take the exams.

When students are caught cheating, the colleges to which they have applied for admission should be informed, she said. That is currently not being done.

Earlier this week, Rice charged six current or former students at Great Neck North High School with hiring a college student and fellow Great Neck alumnus to take SAT exams in their place.

The six are charged with misdemeanors. The college student, Sam Eshaghoff, was charged with scheming to defraud, criminal impersonation and falsifying business records.

Eshaghoff, 19, a student at Emory University in Atlanta who previously attended the University of Michigan, pleaded not guilty. He is accused of accepting up to $2,500 from each of the students to take the test.

The scheme unraveled when Great Neck North faculty members looked into rumors that students had paid a third party to take the SAT for them, Rice said. Administrators then identified six students who “had large discrepancies between their academic performance records and their SAT scores,” the prosecutor said.

Eshaghoff, who allegedly flew home from college at one point and took two exams in the same weekend, scored between 2140 and 2220 on the tests, which are used by college administrators in helping them decide who gets into school. The top score on an SAT is 2400.

The prosecutor said more arrests were possible, and she scoffed at suggestions that the Great Neck cheating scheme was an isolated incident.

“I believe it’s going to be more systemic,” Rice told the AP in an interview in her office. “We are actually looking into other schools. We’ve gotten information from outside sources that this kind of a cheating scandal is going on in other schools around the county.”

Kathleen Fineout Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the College Board, sponsor and owner of the SAT, said in a statement Thursday that security procedures were reviewed regularly.

“When appropriate, we implement enhancements that we have confidence will increase security and comply with all laws” as long as those changes don’t prohibitively increase exam costs, complicate logistics or unnecessarily increase test takers’ anxiety, she said.

Because the test is administered in 7,000 locations in 170 countries, “the immediate implementation of untested, potentially confusing new security measures would only prove a disservice to the students we are all interested in supporting,” Steinberg said.

Rice said she was particularly infuriated that colleges were not informed when students were caught cheating on the SAT. In such cases, ETS, which administers the test for the College Board, withdraws the test scores and offers the student the opportunity to take the test again or to receive a refund. ETS invalidates about 1,000 students a year for cheating, typically copying answers.

ETS spokesman Tom Ewing has said that privacy restrictions involving minors prevents them from advising colleges about cheaters.

He pointed out that state law has prevented prosecutors from publicly identifying the six students involved in the Great Neck case because they were all younger than 19 when the alleged crime occurred. Four of those students have gone on to college, despite having their test scores withdrawn without explanation.

Rice said it would be possible to notify colleges confidentially.

Also Thursday, a New York lawmaker who chairs the state Senate Higher Education Committee said he was considering holding public hearings on SAT security.

“They really gave me nothing,” Sen. Kenneth Lavalle said of ETS. “If I don’t receive cooperation then my committee will hold a hearing on this matter, because it’s probably the only way we’re going to get people to cooperate.”

Eshaghoff’s attorney, Matin Emouna, has questioned whether the issue required the attention of prosecutors, arguing it should have been handled as an internal school matter.

But Rice insisted the courts are the proper venue for this case.

“This is not the situation where you have a child peering over the shoulder of the kid next to them,” Rice said. “There needs to be accountability. You’re talking about a cheating scandal involving thousands of dollars. It’s a crime.”

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