SAT/ACT Cheating Scandal

My son is taking the ACT for a second time on December 11 to raise his scores from the mid twenties to, hopefully, the high twenties or low thirties. He is among thousands of high school seniors working hard to raise their scores as a means of increasing their chances of being accepted into highly-competitive colleges and universities. While upper income and private school students have long enjoyed such advantages as access to more rigorous curricula, high-cost SAT/ACT Prep programs, tutors, and safe schools, apparently, even that isn’t enough for some students. CBS New York reported that as many as 35 affluent Long Island, New York students paid from $2500 to $3500 for others to take the SAT and ACT for them. As many as two public and three private schools were involved. While the $3500 price tag may appear high, these students, and possibly their parents, are aware that some colleges and universities award hefty scholarships based on a student’s SAT or ACT scores, while high SAT or ACT scores at many highly-competitive colleges and universities will tip the admissions decision in a student’s favor.

Having attending such highly performing schools as Great Neck North High School, North Shore Hebrew Academy, and St. Mary’s High School, these students had already enjoyed a huge advantage over other Long Island, New York students. Elaine Gross, President of ERASE Racism, wrote about the huge disparities between the highest and lowest performing Long Island Public Schools in a June 5, 2011 Newsday article:

“Consider that only 9 percent of the Island’s black students, and 14 percent of its Hispanic students, were enrolled in the top 25 percent of Long Island’s best schools in 2008-09, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

How can it be acceptable that in 2009, Hempstead had a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent and just down the street, Garden City’s rate was 96 percent? Or that in Suffolk, Central Islip’s rate was 52 percent, while its neighbor, West Islip, had a 95 percent rate? Hempstead and Central Islip have majorities of black and Hispanic students, while the other districts have white majorities.”

The Forbes Magazine article, “Why Rich Kids Are Cheating On The SAT,” suggests that the pressures on affluent children as reflected in the film, “Race to Nowhere” is to blame. However, I am struck by the arrogance of children from affluent communities, attending some of the country’s best high schools, who believe that it is their birthright to be admitted into America’s top colleges. If cheating will get them accepted, too bad for their classmates who had the morality not to cheat or the students who successfully fought an uphill battle for 13 years in low performing schools toward a dream of being admitted into Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. To all of the students who attended the best schools and still were not accepted into their first choice school, you were fortunate to have received a great K-12 education and will undoubtedly find yourself in a position of being able to be admitted (and succeed) in all, but a handful of colleges and universities throughout the country. And, to the students from low performing schools who have fought a good fight, worked their butts off, suffered through out of control classrooms and violent schools, and in spite of it all, find themselves accepted into the freshman class of one of America’s top colleges or universities—don’t you dare feel that you somehow do not belong in college classrooms alongside those from schools and communities seemingly so much more privileged. Consider that those who may arrogantly turn their nose up at you as though YOU do not belong, may very well be the same students who cheated their way in! In Dennis Biancuzzo’s blog entry, The Culture of White Privilege he notes:

“White culture perpetuates the ideology that white people are morally and intellectually superior to people of color. For example, many suburban white women and men think they get into college because they are ‘more intelligent than Chicanos, Native Americans or African Americans; when, in fact, they get into college because their high schools prepare them more effectively for college boards than do most high schools in urban areas.”

Once a child of poverty and now a parent, I am pleased that our older son was not only accepted into Amherst College, but after three years, is pleased both with his choice of college and the quality of education that he is receiving. Our younger son would love to be admitted to Amherst College or to enter into the NROTC program at Northwestern University. However, I am proud of his attitude, “Dad, I want to take the ACT again, because I believe that I can do much better. However, whatever my scores are, I am confident that the college that sees me as more than my ACT scores is where I want to go anyway.”

Colleges in the United States have the potential to be the educational equalizer. The place where children from affluence and high performing schools and children from poverty and low performing schools have equal access to a high quality education. Hopefully, college admissions officers are smart enough to look beyond the scores to the student, and parents will look beyond the scores to the importance of raising physically and emotionally healthy children. I am equally hopeful that affluent students will think twice before assuming that the students of color or those from high poverty communities are somehow undeserving of the opportunity to finally have equal access to a high quality education.

Read the stories…

DA: two more surrender in SAT scandal

Attorney: School should have handled SAT scandal

More students charged in cheating scandal

Source: More SAT arrests coming Tuesday

Sources: SAT suspects to surrender to DA

DA: Test scandal prove in 5 schools

Investigators expect more arrests in SAT probe