Pressure and Lack of Repercussions Are Cited in SAT Cheating

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Last month, students at Great Neck North High School were accused of paying an Emory University student to take the SAT exam for them. A new report now says the investigation is expanding to two other Long Island School districts and a private school, and officials say they have identified at least one more student who may have impersonated students and taken SATs for payments. SchoolBook invited student journalists at city high schools to write about the cheating scandal. Students from Stuyvesant High School submitted a news article and an editorial from The Spectator, the Stuyvesant High School newspaper. 

By Maya Averbuch and Tong Niu
The Spectator

Last week, the authorities arrested an Emory University sophomore, Sam Eshaghoff, on charges that he used false identification and took the SAT for six Long Island high school students. The highly publicized episode raised questions about the frequency of cheating at testing centers.

Some teenagers believe that student integrity keeps cheating rates close to zero, while others say illegal score boosting is the norm.

“After [students] are done with a section, they share answers in the bathrooms,” a Stuyvesant High School senior, Ahlam Rafita, said. “If the person is really good at math, they’ll finish it and can easily switch back to the reading sections.”

Moreover, she added that the cheating is sometimes in plain sight. In one case, a student borrowed another one’s answer sheet in the testing room. “The proctor did not notice her flipping back in the book and just changing all the answers during the breaks,” Ms. Rafita said.

Other students reported cases in which proctors left the room or fell asleep while testing was in session. According to a Stuyvesant senior, Marina Shneerson, students often post comments on their Facebook walls after the SAT such as, “Haha, Googled all the words on my phone.”

Though students have different methods of cheating on the SAT, they all have one goal: to get into a good college. “If it’s a stressful matter your family is involved with, and if there’s a lot of build-up and expectations, then it’s going to be a situation where cheating is a plausible option just to try to fulfill the standards,” Clay Walsh, a Stuyvesant sophomore, said.

Furthermore, some say SAT dishonesty is simply an extension of the rampant cheating in schools through which students earn undeservedly high grades. “They know that if they have a low SAT score, it will basically devalue everything that they did in school because it looks like they had easy teachers,” Felicia Rutberg, a Stuyvesant senior, said.

Perhaps the greatest impetus is the lack of repercussions. Though the College Board notifies students when their scores are discounted, the news never reaches colleges. “Society gears you to want to go to a good college,” said a Stuyvesant junior, Nabanita Hossain. “The main risk for a cheater is getting caught, so if you do it and no one finds out about it and the score just gets withdrawn, then what’s the risk? Why wouldn’t you do it?”

By Olivia Fountain
The Spectator

When the news broke that six Long Island high school students allegedly cheated on the SAT, many people were taken aback — the idea that their city’s youth could and would pay someone to take a test for them rightfully struck them as shocking.

What I find even more shocking, however, is how this contrasts with my own reaction: Cheating is a problem, obviously, and I don’t condone what these students did in any way, but I was not particularly fazed by what they had done.

It disturbs me that I’m so accustomed to being in an environment with extremely competitive students who are prepared and able to cheat their way to the top, but this kind of situation increasingly reflects what our education’s system obsession with tests and numbers is creating.

At the very least — pros and cons of the whole issue of testing aside — one would expect that cheating would be severely punished when discovered. Apparently, this is not the case; one of the parts of the SAT scandal that drew my attention was that even though the alleged cheaters have been busted, no move will be made to notify the colleges they are attending or applying to of their indiscretion.

As per the College Board’s policy, when a student is suspected of an illegitimate SAT score, the score is simply canceled and the student notified. Neither their current high school nor the prospective colleges are informed that the student may have cheated. This sends the message that it’s O.K. to cheat, because the worst-case scenario simply entails taking the test again.

The SAT is an incredibly high-stakes exam, with a score that many colleges look to at admissions time. To put so much importance on one test builds stress, and lots of it. I’ve already begun to study for the SAT that I'm taking in January. And because I don’t plan to pay anyone $2,500 to take the test for me, as the Long Island students apparently did and who knows how many others might have, the uncertainty of my performing well is a constant source of unease.

As a junior at a competitive high school, it sometimes seems like everything I do will be scrutinized by the colleges, from quiz scores to extracurricular activities to Facebook photos. The pressure is immense, and I can completely understand why someone would feel like the only way to get by is to cheat.

In this atmosphere, it seems unfair that students who actually worked hard and achieved the grade they deserved, be it high or low, have to compete against those who put in zero work but, through academic dishonesty, scored even higher.

Society pounds the importance of high test scores into our brains, making it seem that actually getting something out of your education isn’t worth as much as looking good on paper. Though I personally try to achieve grades by honest means, I worry that I’ve become too resigned on the issue, thanks to my own ambitions, to speak out.

We are living in an era where knowing the material isn’t as important as proving you know it through exams, and that is a big problem.