SAT cheating scandals are about more than ethical lapses

  • Article by: LINDA P. CAMPBELL , Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • Updated: March 30, 2012 - 6:02 PM

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, right, joins Kathryn Juric, Vice President of the College Board for the SAT Program, as they announce a national test security overhaul to prevent cheating on the SAT exams, Tuesday, March 27, 2012 in Mineola, New York. As part of the enhanced security, students taking U.S. college entrance exams this fall will have to submit photo IDs with their applications.

Photo: Howard Schnapp, Associated Press

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What a shock: Smart guys with affluent parents cheat on tests for fun and profit.

It's true that money can't buy good morals or respectability. A fancy paycheck and fancier home can't insulate your children from their own foibles, fallibility and foolish choices.

The makers of the nation's most-prominent college admissions exams seem to believe that stricter photo ID rules can deter shysters from diminishing the investment made by every student who personally stressed forth their own SAT or ACT scores.

But I wonder whether this isn't so much a security issue as a moral one.

Since last year, authorities on Long Island, N.Y., have been going after a collection of young adults who impersonated others to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test or were clients who paid the fake testers to produce enviable results.

As much as $3,500 exchanged hands, according to news reports about the investigation by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

A total of 20 people were arrested, including a pair of lawyers' sons now attending Emory University in Atlanta and Tulane in New Orleans.

The New York press has written extensively about the saga. The reliably entertaining New York Post ran such captions as "Test perp."

One of the accused, who according to some reports has been allowed to take a plea deal, appeared on CBS News' "60 Minutes."

This week, new security measures were announced for the SAT and the lesser-used American College Test, starting with the 2012-13 school year.

Among other things, students will have to submit a photo when they register for either exam then bring an admissions slip with that picture and a matching ID on test day; scores with students' photos will be sent to high school guidance counselors for verification; and test-takers will have to sign an acknowledgement that they know violators will be prosecuted.

The New York Times reported that the SAT was taken about 2 million times last year, with 3,000 scores questioned and 1,000 canceled. The number of suspicious scores presumably will go down.

Advocates of voter ID will argue, "See? You even need a photo card to take a college admissions test!"

Without conceding that voting outweighs college admission in the hierarchy of life's pivotal moments, let me suggest these distinctions:

The Constitution doesn't guarantee any right to take a stomach-churning standardized test that costs about $50 a pop, but the right to vote is protected, so restrictions on the first are more tolerable than on the second.

Besides that, having to produce a photo ID has not deterred SAT con artists. A driver's license, school ID or passport was already required at check-in. Bamboozlers just produce fake IDs at the door.

Just like adults, kids sometimes cut corners. Test answers written on the inside of a water bottle label; a tiny cheat sheet slid inside a waistband; a restroom "emergency" to crib from index cards hidden in the toilet seat cover dispenser.

Students too lazy to devise their own methods can find a list that includes the "lanyard," the "gum wrapper" and a "girls only" technique that seems to require more effort than actually studying.

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