SAT Cheating Scandal Highlights Changing Culture


Julia Govan, Staff Writer

In early January, a shocking news story titled “The Perfect Score” ran on CBS News’ 60 Minutes. The story featured Sam Eshaghoff, a 19 year old college student who cheated on the SAT more than 16 times and until recently got away with it. Police arrested the teen for fraud and criminal impersonation in late September. Peers paid Eshaghoff upwards of $2,500 to take the “life determining” test for them because he could consistently place in the 97th percentile or higher.

The SAT was once a mere common knowledge test that students only took once. Most kids applied to one or two colleges and almost always got in. Now, however, the test has become increasingly more difficult for students; SAT tutors are the norm and the ticket to a good score and thus a good college.

Eshaghoff represents the changing SAT culture. The SAT system has been heading in a downward spiral for years as kids feel the growing significance of the test. More infractions within the system are bound to arise as the magnitude of the test escalates, because as the SAT continues to increase in importance, pressure among students will only continue to increase too. In fact, it’s not a stretch to presume that as the test’s significance grows in determining college acceptances, students will resort to seeking desperate measures in order to ensure they’ll do well. It is now revealed that some are even desperate enough to hire an experienced kid to take it for them.

Many question whether the dishonest students involved with Eshaghoff stole the spots of more deserving peers. Eshaghoff admits that it’s possible, but everyone knows that it’s more than possible. In fact, it’s incredibly certain. While the SAT is not the only factor that matters, a higher score, even when paired with a low GPA, can surely be enough to raise the chances of college admissions. When that applicant is accepted into a college where they otherwise wouldn’t have even been considered, they most certainly have nudged someone more deserving out of the spot.

Kurt Landgraff, President of the Education Testing Service (ETS), the company that administers the SAT’s security, claims that 99 percent of the three million students that take the test each year do so honestly. Of course, that other one percent only represents the amount of cheating students that College Board is aware of. The ETS is deluded in thinking that this is in any way an accurate percentage, considering the current system.

Eshaghoff only needed to make a fake school ID card by using a computer program to superimpose his own photo into the frame. And honestly, the SAT proctors aren’t exactly hawks when it comes to security. A quick flash of the card to check the name is all that’s needed. No license, social security number, or passport is required. If the SAT is as important as the ETS and almost all major universities claim it is, there needs to be stronger security.

Also the punishment of Eshaghoff’s “business deals” is anything but severe. He received only a few hours of community service where he tutored low income students on SAT skills. And as for his “clients,” it is ETS policy to never reveal to the colleges any suspicions or confirmations of cheating. The students’ identities were actually protected by the ETS’s secrecy policy, so the students were truly untouchable.

While some may argue that Eshaghoff is the minority, what reason do we have not to suppose that he is just one of many who are taking advantage of the flawed system? This is merely an example of what is bound to continue happening now and in the future if security stays in its elementary level, and more importantly, if students feel forced to look into other options since the test is a major factor that determines their future after high school.