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    A provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

The SAT Scandal
January 8, 2012 - 4:17pm

I just finished listening to the Sam Eshagoff interview on 60 Minutes. Before I comment on the interview, I would like to commend 60 Minutes for decades of worthwhile news and human interest coverage. 60 Minutes remains a leading example of TV at its best.

I am not as positive about either Sam Eshaghoff or ETS. I’m not sure that Sam has learned his lesson or that he understands the seriousness of what he did. He does understand he got caught and that seems to have caused some regret. But anyone who believes that he “saved the lives” of students with awful records by taking the SATs for those students so they could get into schools that were otherwise unachievable, but doesn’t understand that he likely adversely impacted the lives of students who presented honest records but were not accepted because of space taken up by cheaters, doesn’t comprehend the seriousness of his actions. Students need to be judged on their work; an awful record should not be neutralized or turned into a positive because the student and/or his or her family could pay for what the Nassau County Attorney General rightly calls “an academic hired gun.” Sam may call his actions saving a life, I call it criminal fraud. That Eshagoff doesn’t get jail time makes sense to me but that his sentence is tutoring economically disadvantaged students on test taking, at what seems to be at his convenience, is too lenient given the fraud involved and the righteous attitude of saving lives presented during the TV interview. Does he realize how wrong and how serious his actions were?

The attitude expressed by ETS on 60 Minutes also needs work. To be told we should not “overreact” to a system that lacked even minimal security is disconcerting. I would agree that the vast majority of test takers are honest and therefore that the vast majority of test scores are accurate assessments of test taking capability. But there clearly is and has been cheating. That there hasn’t been more cheating does not  seem to be due to the efforts of ETS; rather it is a reflection of most people being honest. Cheating needs to be dealt with firmly on all levels. The ETS test taking procedures are being tightened up and that is a positive sign. But the policy where no action is taken by ETS after the fact against a known cheater leaves much to be desired in my mind. Basically it says since we didn’t catch you in a timely manner, you get a free pass and are able to enjoy the fruits of your ill gotten gains.  It may take substantial time to catch up with some criminals, including those guilty of white collar crimes. But does it really make sense to say that since we didn’t catch you at the time you took the test, you are free of all repercussions? I don’t think so.

I hope the investigations continue and that as many as possible of the individuals who wrongfully took exams for others are caught and held accountable.  And I hope that ETS is able to tighten procedures and restore the confidence we had in them. As educators we work hard to ensure that academic honesty is maximized.  Part of our mission is to make clear to our students the importance of honesty and its key role in our value system.  But part of our responsibility is also exposing cheating when it takes place and making sure there is accountability.  And I think we all would agree that we can and should do more on both counts. 

 

 

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