SAT Cheating Is Only Part of the Problem

Cheating is wrong. What more is there to say when someone is paid to impersonate another when taking a test?  This is the story from Great Neck, Long Island, where authorities have arrested a former Great Neck North student for having sat in for six students during the SAT exam, receiving thousands of dollars in exchange. Police charge that the 19-year-old used phony photo ID cards to carry out the scheme.

This isn’t the only instance of cheating on the college entrance exam. ETS, which administers the SATs, says that it invalidates about 1,000 scores each year for cheating, usually the more garden variety kind such as copying from another student, tampering with the booklets and using cell phones. To stop further impersonations, Nassau’s DA proposes photographing those taking the tests and sending those pictures along with scores to students’ schools.

While other high schools are under investigation and the fraud may spread, it does seem a bit much to put every student taking the test through this extra step. I guess if you grow up knowing nothing but searches at airports and metal detectors in schools and office buildings, surveillance cameras in stores and red light cameras at intersections, this hardly seems like an intrusion upon one’s privacy.

The real objection, in my mind, is something else. The SATs are gamed all the time by those with enough money and savvy to employ tutors. Studies show that scores improve significantly from outside tutoring. This doesn’t invalidate the test as an indicator of who will succeed in college, but it does reveal a class bias in the testing.

Students from poor households, those who attend indifferent or overextended schools where the focus is on keeping chaos under control are disadvantaged by the SAT because they often aren’t encouraged to get tutors or they simply can’t afford top-notch help.

The use of SATs as a measure for acceptance is being questioned by a number of colleges, which are setting them aside in favor of other criteria. This seems the right thing to do. Reliance upon SATs is not only class biased, it creates enormous incentives to find creative ways of getting an edge on others, however small.

Cheating on the SAT is one piece of the manipulation that underlies much of the college entrance process. Resumes are padded, sometimes dishonestly. More seriously, parents pressure their children to play a sport, join a team, participate in after school activities, learn an instrument, become active in a community project, show leadership ability, know more than one language, take Advance Placement courses, receive awards, write a never-to-be-forgotten entrance essay, and never slip from the Honor Roll.

Enough already. Isn’t there something to be said for quiet, daydreaming, playing for the fun of it, flirting, reading what you want, doing nothing? High school students are being put under great strain, in some measure by colleges that have mystified the admissions process and in large part by worrying, anxious parents who think that the world is over for their children if they don’t get in to the college of their choice, which must be a Princeton Review top-pick.

Education is important and America is letting down many students as public schools in many parts of the country deteriorate. But in the long run, the system we have now will not serve us. Instead, it will feed the widening gap between the few haves and everyone else and produce a generation of leaders who will have been deprived of the real joys of childhood. Not to speak of those who will have gotten ahead through exaggeration, lies or cheating,



One thought on “SAT Cheating Is Only Part of the Problem

  1. What a relief to read this post!! While I was on the subway yesterday, there was an 13 year old girl coming home from school with a blackberry. I could see over her shoulder as she passionately typed out a night schedule by 15 minute increments: 5PM: dinner. 5:30: physics. 6:15: Calculus 6:45: English .. 8PM: SAT Vocab.7:30: Practice flute 8:PM Stretches. It went until 10:30PM. Is this what our ideal of what we want children to be doing so that,as you say, their resumes are adequately padded? And yet, for many kids, it does seem to be the stressful norm. I totally agree that this is not what childhood should be about–no free play, creativity, friendship time. And yet, as you say, these children will be unfairly advantaged by private tutors to bolster their scores and write their application essays. All are disadvantaged through this system–we lose childhood for the well-off and the disadvantaged lose hope of an adulthood of “getting ahead” where so much is judged by former test scores and how much time one spends *not* being a child.

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