Students, Educators Say SAT Cheating Is Rare
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An SAT cheating scandal in Long Island is prompting calls for tougher security on college admissions tests across the country. Students and educators in the posh North Shore suburbs of New York City say cheating on the SAT is rare, but they also say it's not all that surprising, considering the enormous pressure kids face to do well on the test. NPR's Joel Rose has our story.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: It's well afternoon on a Saturday when the kids spill out onto the steps and well-manicured lawn of Great Neck North High School. After sitting for the SAT for close to four hours, they seemed relived and maybe a little dazed.
MARIO STEFANIDIS: It was pretty hard. Towards the end, it got really difficult. The last few questions on each section were hard.
SAMUEL YIM: It was all right. Just the math section was a little harder than I expected, harder than in practice.
ROSE: Mario Stefanidis(ph) and Samuel Yim(ph) are both 16. Stefanidis goes to high school in Queens, while Yim goes to Great Neck South. Yim says there's a lot of pressure to do well on this test.
YIM: Well, my mom pressures me to get high scores, like 22s and 23s, and I don't know if I can achieve them, so...
ROSE: Yim says he would never cheat, but he's heard of other kids who did, even before the scandal in Great Neck broke in September, so has Ali Grammy(ph), a senior from Queens.
ALI GRAMMY: I heard of people, like, taking the tests and, like, pretending to be someone else. Like, my brother has a friend that took the SAT, and he took it for another person for money.
JILL MADENBERG: They want that bumper sticker on the back of their car that says a certain thing, and you need a certain score in order to get into that school.
ROSE: Jill Madenberg is an independent college counselor who works with kids from Great Neck and other Long Island towns. She compares cheating on the SAT to using illegal drugs.
MADENBERG: Kids know that that is an option available to them. And if they want to pursue it, they can. Most of them do not. Most of them don't want to go down that path, but they know it's an option if they want it. And, you know, that's just the sad reality.
ROSE: The Nassau County district attorney acknowledged as much when she announced charges against 20 current and former students. A few are charged with impersonating other students for money, most with paying someone else to take the tests for them. At a New York State Senate hearing in October, Great Neck North principal Bernard Kaplan was quick to blame the Educational Testing Service or ETS, the company that administers the SAT.
BERNARD KAPLAN: The ETS has made it very easy to cheat, very difficult to get caught and has failed completely to include home schools in the process.
ROSE: Kaplan and others want ETS to require students to take the test at their own schools to minimize the opportunity for impersonation, but ETS says that would be impractical and potentially unfair to students at smaller schools that can't afford to give the test as often. And ETS spokesman Tom Ewing insists the company already does a good job of catching cheaters.
TOM EWING: If somebody is determined enough to cheat to the point where they will create fraudulent IDs or hire somebody for $1,000 to take the test, I mean, we're not going to be able to catch them all, but we believe we catch the vast majority of them.
ROSE: The College Board, which owns the SAT, is looking at ways to improve test security. In the meantime, educators hope the Long Island scandal leads to more consideration of the enormous pressure facing high school kids. Sam Frank is the Great Neck site director for TestTakers, a private SAT prep company.
SAM FRANK: For these kids, it can be really, really tough. They have tons of classes. They have sports, and they have to put SAT prep on top of all that because that's what it takes.
ROSE: Educators say college admissions officers could help, too, by placing less emphasis on standardized test scores or making them optional. But with college applications at record levels and climbing, that's likely to be a tough sell. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.
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