SAT/ACT Cheating Scandal

November 28, 2011

Political Theory


Last week, 20 arrests were made in NY in connection to an academic scandal involving standardized testing. Five test takers, and fifteen “payers” have been identified for their involvement in a scam to cheat on the SAT’s and the ACT’s. The test takers were paid by other students to take these paramount tests for them, ensuring them a better chance at getting accepted to the colleges of their choice.

Standardized tests are seen as a way to truly gauge a student’s academic abilities and possible achievement in the future. Although there are theories that these tests may not be an accurate diagnostic measure because many believe there are ethnic and cultural biases in the tests, they are still seen as the fairest way to see how much a student knows. GPA’s, grades, and extracurricular activities can be influenced by student’s financial background, relationships with teachers, and learning style. Standardized tests are the one quantifiable measure that can be used to compare students from different geographic backgrounds, and to see who is the best candidate for a particular school.

The fact that large amounts of students were able to cheat on these tests is alarming to many. If students can pay others to take the test for them, the SAT/ACT’s are just another way that people of higher economic status can get ahead of people with fewer resources.

Similar to the controversy about Adderall and cheating, this issue can be applied to Rawls’ concept of inequality and fairness. According to Rawls, freedom and equality require fairness. If a test that can change your entire future can be cheated on, the playing field is no longer level. Because this test was a measure of intelligence, naturally smarter students were already at an advantage. However, now less intelligent students can get ahead of their smarter and poorer classmates by cheating.  Is there any way to fairly test students? Is there any measure that can not be cheated on? Can things ever be as fair as Rawls would imagine?

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23 Comments on “SAT/ACT Cheating Scandal”

  1. parijog Says:

    In some ways I was really surprised to hear that students would try to cheat on standardized tests. I mean, why would you want to get into a college that is above your ability level? it seems like a sure way to find yourself in a freshman year meltdown after you fail all your classes. This is what common sense tells me anyway. The reality however is that many students, and even may parents, are more concerned the reputation of a school than they are with maintaining decent morals and ethics.

    I really like the authors use of Rawls to analyze this dilemma. These students are tipping the scales to make up for their lack of intelligence. In a way, this is robbing the students who were gifted with intelligence and a hard work ethic. The only problem with this analysis is that perhaps the SAT/ACT is not really a level playing field, but even so, cheating certainly does not help make it more level.

  2. cobyj17 Says:

    There can never be a measure of academic ability that is truly fair. In my opinion, there are more concerning issues with the SAT/ACT tests than cheating. You mention how GPA’s, as opposed to SAT/ACT scores can be influenced by a “student’s financial background, … and learning style.” I would argue that some of the biggest problems with current standardized tests are that they do not fairy assess students with different financial backgrounds and different learning styles.

    Students with more wealthy backgrounds can achieve higher test scores without being more intelligent through the use of tutors. These expensive tutors can greatly increase test scores, and are essentially inaccessible to poorer students. Additionally, standardized tests favor students who learn and think in certain ways. Certain students may be just as qualified as others for college, however they may think in different ways, score lower on the test, and be unfairly disadvantaged in the college application process. Personally, I took both the ACT and SAT tests. In relative terms, I scored much lower on one than the other because I felt that they catered to different styles of thinking. I was surprised at the degree to which my scores differed.

    While cheating is an important issue to deal with, this would happen in any system. The system should be re-evaluated based on other concerning inequalities.

  3. rfieds Says:

    It is no surprise to me that a stand is finally being taken against those who cheat on the SAT and ACT exams. I think that it has become a common flaw in contemporary society today and is a really intriguing. It seems as if more and more people are concerned with getting better grades than actually learning and ascertaining knowledge. With persistent pressures of getting into colleges and universities that have become much more competitive, teenagers are pressured more to cheat. The reality is that cheating should not be tolerated. I think that this represents a progressive movement to stopping kids from cheating. I think that the use of Rawls to analyze this dilemma is interesting but does not fully fit into this circumstance. When we talk about exams, there is always going to be some sort of loophole for students to cheat or try to cheat. There is not much we can do to stop that besides keep exams under the honor system. However, what we can do is set greater consequences for those who do cheat. By doing so, cheating would not be considered as a normal aspect of taking exams and would be much more feared. I think that the SAT/ACT is not a level playing field in it of itself. Those who have the money to play for tutoring have an advantage over others who do not have the money and must rely on their own abilities to study.
    Overall, I think that this issue is progressive and should discourage all kids from cheating.

  4. Matthew Bernstein Says:

    As I live in the area where this investigation is currently occurring, I have been following this case very closely. It saddens me to believe that kids (some of which I know personally) feel so pressured to succeed and get into a good college that they will do anything and pay any amount to have someone take their SAT/ACT for them.

    This case brings about an important question: is our society so wrapped up in success and public appearance that people need to go to lengths, such as paying for someone to take a standardized test, to achieve this success? I think that a new way to judge high school seniors for college admission based on the recent news coming out. While it is a widely held belief that SAT/ACT scores don’t often tell the true story about a college applicant, it is doubtful that any action will really be taken in the relatively near future to change the system.

    This change must be made soon, or the consequences could be dire. As seen with the Penn State scandal followed by the ongoing investigation at Syracuse, if this is happening at one or two high schools in New York, it is only a matter of time until more and more scandals occur around the entire country.

  5. adamstillman2011 Says:

    It is possible to look at this from a Machiavellian stand point. When I was in high school getting in to college was all I could think about. I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure I had the best chance to get into my first choice (Michigan Go Blue!). The kids who are cheating on these tests probably feel the same way. In my case I studied hard for the ACT and did not cheat, but in the case of these kids they might feel like the ends justify the means. If they didn’t get caught cheating they would have likely scored very high on the test and achieved their ultimate goal of getting into the college of their choice. In that case the end justified their cheating, but the main risk of cheating is the potential to get caught. After this scandal I bet these kids are really regretting their choices as they probably are struggling to get into college.

  6. zrobbins24 Says:

    I am not as surprised by these arrests as others may be. High school students have been trying to gain any advantage that they can to get into their number one choice school, their dream school. Some ways of gaining an advantage, legally, that many students take advantage of include attending an optional interview or writing an additional optional essay. Either way, these are legal forms of getting a bit of an edge on other potential applicants. However, getting an advantage should not occur by cheating and doing something illegal.

    I feel that many high school students are more concerned with the reputation and name of the school that they want to attend, rather than finding the right fit, both academically and socially. By paying someone to take the SAT for you, “your” score does not reflect your actual ability and, therefore, will hinder you if you decide to attend a university that you are not prepared for academically.

    As to Rawls’ concept, I believe that paying someone to take the SAT for you is similar to taking Adderall yourself. You are gaining an unfair, and illegal (if not prescribed in terms of the Adderall), advantage over other students. Students who would not do so well on the SAT without using Adderall or without paying someone to take the test for them are creating an unfair situation with respect to those students that are not taking the drug or cheating. The same goes for a student who would normally do well on the SAT taking the drug or cheating. Either way, there is not any fairness in relation to other students who are not breaking the rules or taking unfair advantages.

  7. bmauto21 Says:

    This cheating scandal exposed many problems with standardized tests today. Being from NY and having friends that know the person accused of taking tests for others, I am very well aware of the penalties of such an action. This person was a man and even was able to take a test for a woman without anyone realizing. These tests are fair but it is up to a students moral obligation to take them themselves. This scandal was caught but who is to say it won’t happen again? Also this could have happened plenty of times without anyone realizing. There is a way to make sure that no cheating occurs but that would take a lot of time and would have to be run by the administrators of the test, and not just proxy’s. They would have to individually check everyone’s identification and test before allowing them to submit it. This brings up more problems, such as fake identification, and these test advisors should already be checking identification but why weren’t they here? This has to do with morality more than anything else. Most tests make you sign a form saying that you didn’t cheat. What can stop someone from signing that and proceed to cheat if they are not caught. That is the responsibility of parents to raise children with moral awareness and to be as honest as they can be.

  8. carweiss Says:

    I don’t believe that there will ever be a perfect world in which nobody tries to cheat the system. While I don’t think the SAT/ACT’s test students true intelligence, I don’t think we can say for sure that their GPA’s reflect it either. Just as students cheat on their ACT/SAT’s they can cheat on their tests, papers and projects. In high school, kids pay others to write their papers, they look to their left with the teacher isn’t looking during their test and they can depend on others to complete group work. Moreover, while the economic advantages of some students tend to influence their scores, whose to say these students aren’t trying to cheat the system to do even BETTER? The standards that many Universities require are extremely high and even the brightest of the bright can’t live up to those standards.
    The equality is constantly being tipped in many different directions, and people will continue to try and cheat the system as long as the standards and competitiveness of Universities stay in place.

  9. mzselig Says:

    There has been a long-standing problem with the standardized testing system the higher education system in the US utilized and I believe that this goes to simply prove that the problem exists. The ACT/SAT testing system that is used to gauge how intelligent students are and, in most cases, be a major deciding factor in their acceptance into colleges and universities has a massive flaw in it, the fact that the playing field is no where near being level for all students taking the tests. While the creators of the tests aim to make it an even playing field for all students, that feat is simply not possible in that the preparation some students receive is far superior to that of other students, if they even receive it at all. Yes, some students simply feel that they are not at the caliber they need to be in order to score the marks they need to have a shot at acceptance to a certain university or college and are driven to taking part in this kind of cheating scandal, there are other students that take the ACT and SAT with no grooming at all and may or may not be driven to this kind of mass cheating.
    I know where I grew up and went to high school SAT and ACT preparation began months before the actual test date and was quite rigorous. In some cases, students had tutors every other day and took practice exams every weekend in preparation for the impending exam. This kind of tutoring and grooming for these exams is available to those who can and are willing to shell out the exorbitant amounts of money to pay for it while others are left to either study the practice books on their own or have no preparation at all. With this kind of business surrounding the ACT and SAT, there is no way to ever have a level playing field on which to take these exams. There will always be some sort of competitive edge we as humans attempt to find or buy. It is human nature to attempt to gain the upper hand over our competition, whether it be via training or cheating, thus it is nearly impossible to ever have a scenario in which Rawls’ dreams would come true and every person involved would exist in a totally fair environment.

  10. samyoovpolsci Says:

    The same questions lingered on my mind when i first started to fill out the applications for college. I personally do not think that there is an exam that can actually gauge the intelligence and the potential of a student.Hence, the SAT and the ACT is, to a degree the fairest system, as long as no one cheats. However, although the SAT and the ACT does put all the students on a level playing ground as every one is tested with the same material, other aspects such as GPA’s also play a very high role when it comes to applying to college. GPA’s are very subjective. Depending on the high school you go to and its standard, the quality of one’s GPA may vary. Hence, the reason why all the schools now require varies different essays, to not only asses our writing ability but also our thoughts. Even then, these essays can now be faked. There are agencies/people who you can contact and pay to write admission essays for you. As such is the case, more and more schools now require or at least asks students for interviews.
    As admission to college is a highly competitive game, it is only natural that people try and do what ever they can to get the upper hand. And since, there is no concrete way to distinguish the level of intelligence and potential between candidates, the system we have now is the one we will have to trust.

  11. julieele Says:

    I don’t believe that there will ever be a perfect and equal system to measure intelligence. Though these students did choose to cheat and had the opportunity to do so through their socioeconomic status, the SAT and ACT exams have already been seen as flawed. Both of these exams have strategies that can be learned through intensive tutoring. Those who are able to afford tutors have a higher advantage. Wealthier students may also attend elite private high schools that are considered to hold a higher education as opposed to public schools. The poor are often disadvantaged because of the greater opportunities that money can afford. There will always be a division between the two social classes. I believe that if education were considered a federal issue as opposed to a state issue, there will be more of an even playing field nationally. All students throughout the nation would have to follow the same curriculum and have nationwide exams instead of state exams.

  12. phillipschermer Says:

    Coming from a Pittsburgh prep school, I can’t say that I am too surprised by this case. Whether people were taking the SAT while in middle school, buying the newest graphing calculators, or paying thousands of dollars for tutors, parents were always looking for a leg up for their kids. That is exactly what is the most startling about this case. Why are the students being trotted out in front of the cameras and subjected to the harsh spotlight? Sure, the students who were buying this service were wrong, but honestly, I’d put my money on the fact that it was the parents driving the process. Why do they escape culpability? These students probably weren’t dishing out thousands of their own dollars; their parents probably bankrolled the process. Thus, maybe the real criminals are not the 17 and 18 year olds, but rather, the 50 year old parents who took the competitive process to another level.

    Stepping back from the who exactly might be at fault here, why are these high school students being charged with felonies? I can understand that they cheated and they should be subjected to some level of retributive justice, but should they really be charged with a felony? I think that a misdemeanor would be a much more appropriate punishment for these students. But then again, as it is with most parts of this case, it seems that logic is not driving the process.

  13. Rainyo Says:

    My mother was born and raised in Canada. I remember during my junior year of high school going up to Toronto to visit some friends of my mother’s. One of these friends is a high school teacher. I was really surprised to learn that, after speaking with this high school teacher, that there were no standardized testing in Canada. It is interesting to note that a Canadian student had to take standardized testing if he/she wanted to get into a college in the United States. My mother’s friend made a good point in that, just as madisonkraus described, do these tests actually prove anything about a student’s ability to learn? Canada may be on to something in this whole standardized testing fiasco. Some people learn music by ear while others find reading notes easier. Some people write with their left hands instead of their right. Some people are good at math while others are better at art. The point is people are different in every way, so doesn’t standardized testing seem just a bit counterintuitive?

  14. lnk72792 Says:

    I agree with this post that this situation is very alarming. For all we know, there could be many more instances where students are paying off others to get ahead of the game. Perhaps these other situations just haven’t come to light yet. But, in the end it is an unfair system where the rich get a clear advantage over the poor because of their money. In regards to the scandal itself, it’s a shame that these kids had to go through this, but they should have known what they were getting themselves into when they were breaking the law.

  15. blakesimons Says:

    This is an interesting post and an interesting issue that is extremely prevalent today in American society. Teens are constantly trying to get top marks on all standardized tests, whether it is the ACT or SAT, AP tests, or numerous other tests that students are faced with. In my opinion, these tests can never be truly made fair, at least from Rawls’ point of view. In the competitive world that we live in, students and the parents of students are constantly trying to gain the advantage through tutors, prep books, and other means of support. Very few would consider these as forms of cheating; however, it surely gives an advantage. As the price of tutors are pretty expensive, it is obvious that it is easier for the wealthy to give their children tutors for these standardized tests than the poor. The fairness in these tests quickly seem to fade.

    Expanding on the role that income and status play in standardized tests, consider the price of the ACT with writing test. Students are allowed to take the test as many times as they want and only submit the highest grade; however, the test is around $50. This may not seem that pricey if you only takes the test once, but for someone in the lower-class, they may not have the financial means to take the test more than once or twice. Now, on the other hand, more wealthier families can have their students take the exam four, five, or even six times, possibly raising that score from a 20 to a 30.

    It is clear that these tests have their flaws and are not completely fair, and in my opinion, these tests will never be made as fair as Rawls would imagine, especially in a capitalistic country as such we live in, but hey, that’s capitalism.

  16. ksoisson Says:

    This is an interesting issue and I know of something similar that happened at my high school. There was a student doing online homework for others who would pay him for each assignment. In total, I think he ended up making a couple thousand dollars by the end of the year. After he was caught, he had to give all the money back. This is a very hard to issue to control and can create a larger gap in inequality.

    I think it’s impossible to achieve a world that Rawls imagined. Equality in reality is almost impossible. There are so many things that have to be controlled that it’s simply too hard. I don’t really see there ever being a sufficient method of measuring intelligence. There seems to always be ways around it, such as having others take tests or write essays for you. There will always be those that will look for a way around the system. It comes down to the morals and integrity of people.

  17. Jack Says:

    In my opinion, you can never actually have the Rawl’s case of equality because it seems that money and natural ability have sort of become natural as people are born into different situations. The natural ability part is somewhat ridiculous simply because that is how a lot of students do well and those are actually the students that colleges want. That, students that are naturally bright.

    From an economic standpoint, I do not believe there will ever be a way to make a cheat-free test. On an extreme level, there is always someone out there it seems that has the ability to take over a test and manipulate it in some way so that it gives one student an advantage. Obviously, the individuals that have the most money would be able to take advantage of these opportunities. Clearly, it is not fair but that is just how life is.

    From a neither economic nor natural standpoint, it would be difficult to make a test that could not be cheated on by even the poorest of students. The boards of tests are making it more and more difficult but until they stick each student in isolation, there will always be wandering eyes at other bubbles. The proctors that administer the tests are just teachers that will sometimes sit at the front and file their nails. They say not to fill in bubbles for a section that has passed but there is a far off chance that they would ever notice. Interestingly, it is possible that this does come down to human nature and thinking. This is not saying that the students with the best eyes have an advantage to look at bubbles but maybe students from bad backgrounds could be less moral and more likely to cheat.

  18. dannilevin9492 Says:

    As much as we don’t want to admit it cheating is a way of life simply outside the educational world. What is sad about this, is that people don’t feel they are capable of getting the A, or the perfect score, or doing the job application well. So, why not let the smart people take the test for them, have them “do well” and then let it all get thrown in their face when they receive their undeserved success? Because that is just unjust! Cheating on the ACT/SAT, though a clever idea (let’s be real), is not acceptable in society. I think that cheating on a standardized test is a much bigger deal than simply cheating on a regular exam is much more drastic because of the influence these standardized tests have over ones future. I do not think that these standardized tests should hold so much power when it comes to deciding what school one can or can not get into; however, they do have a great impact, and as a result are taken very seriously. Due to this, cheating on this test should result in a large punishment.

    Cheating is a very loose term. There is a clear difference between cheating on a standardized test versus using Adderall when taking this test; nonetheless, many people see both as a method of cheating. I disagree. If using Adderall is considered cheating then so is taking extended time because it puts people at a “disadvantage”. This is not right! People who are not “as smart as others” should not necessarily have the ability to enhance their smarts by taking more time than others or using ADD drugs when others can’t. But that’s not life. Life is full of disadvantages, and in order to over come such disadvantages people must look past the inequality and believe in themselves to succeed. For this reason, having someone take the test goes against all these morals and therefore such action should not be accepted for it corrupts the entire education system.

  19. alexwillard Says:

    I just want to address something in regards to how the author states GPA, extra curricular, and the like can be easily associated with family economic background, and how this makes them unfair. I do not necessarily agree with this, I have friends who have gotten into this school with a much lower GPA, than myself. When I jokingly asked them how they got accepted here, want to know what they said the difference was, they went to an inner city public school with only one parent raising them. If you recall on our applications and SAT/ACT tests we were asked what our parents annual incomes were. Schools try to take account of these financial differences and disadvantages, and provide a fair and just reasoning when associations this with GPA and SAT/ACT scores.

    To address the question of a measure that can’t be cheated on, I believe that this cannot exist. There is a famous quote regarding college football down south that states, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” When looking at this quote people will always try to cheat, if they feel they can get away with it, because it is the best way to ensure success. In this sense there will always be chaeting

  20. elotis Says:

    After going through the ACT experience myself, and reading this, realistically, there will never be a completely fair way to test kids on their intelligence. Yes, the ACT/SAT may be the FAIREST way to asses everyone’s intelligence, but it certainly is not perfect. However, I like to look at this from a “state of nature” kind of view. I do not condone cheating at all and I think that these kids should be punished to the fullest. However, I think we have to accept that getting into college is so competitive these days and it is a dog-eat-dog world. There are kids that are going to be naturally smarter and will score higher than others on these standardized tests, and I think that in the “state of nature” where everyone is looking out for themselves, we have to accept that things will not be completely fair. Everyone wants to do well, everyone wants to go the best school possible.

    Also, when I read this post I could not help but think of affirmative action. I am not saying that what these kids did and the affirmative action system are the same, but, is the affirmative action system, in terms of college admissions, very fair? Whether you believe it is or not, it sort of goes with the whole theme of “will college admissions ever be totally fair?”

  21. #jasonschwartz Says:

    This issue deserves a little bit of recognition. However, when people like Rawls write their books on political theory, they already must take into account the fact that there are always going to be a select few amount of people cheating. The fact of the matter is is that while this issue is horrible, the SAT is still the most effective way to test the ENTIRE nation of students to rank their knowledge. Whether or not a few people cheat should have a reletively small impact on this fact.
    With regards to rawls, Rawls argue’s through his difference principle that we need to do the most for the students who are WORST off. In this case, the students who are best off arer getting helped making them evenbetter off. So Rawls would not approve of it.

  22. bbarocas Says:

    Being as straight forward as possible, things will never be as fair as Rawls would imagine. Money and power have an effect on almost everything in the world, and this subject is no exception. The SAT is probably the “fairest” or at least most standardized way to test and compare students across the entire country. It is obviously not without flaws though, and cheating aside, there are many ways to gain a competitive advantage on the test. Expensive tutors and prep classes are available only to those students who can afford to take advantage of them. Rawls would already say that this sense of imbalance creates inequality and prevents freedom due to its lack of fairness. The test is just so competitive and unfortunately some kids are willing to go to any lengths to “beat it” and get a high score. I think that phillipschermer had a great point when he mentioned some of the fault here should go to the parents. Being from this area in New York, I know how much pressure kids face to go to a good school and do well on the SAT. On Long Island it is always like a competition to do the best at things or have the best things, and going to a good school gives you a lot of pride and is almost expected. Some parents put a lot of weight on their kids’ shoulders to succeed on the SAT and it is easy to see why a kid might go to any length to make that happen. However, that is still no excuse and what these kids did was very wrong. But like I said, I can understand that where these kids are from they are overwhelmed with external pressures and that can end up clouding their judgment. In our society cheating will always exist, things will rarely ever be fair, and in many parts of the country life remains a competition to do better than your neighbor.

  23. Jason Cohen Says:

    To me, this sounds like a classic exmaple of Machiavelli’s dirty hands. I’m appauled that people manage to get away with paying kids to take standardized tests for them. These tests are supposed to level the playing field across the nation due to different curriculums and teaching styles across the nation.

    I remember the times I took the ACTs and SATs. At my school, it was impossible to have someone take the test for you as they scrutinized my social security card and driver’s license. In today’s corrupt society, I am just in pure disbelief that people would even attempt to cheat the system.

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