A security crackdown on millions of students taking the SAT is coming, with stricter identity checks of test-takers and stronger sanctions against cheaters, test officials and state lawmakers said Tuesday.
At a legislative hearing punctuated by sharp exchanges with critical state senators, SAT officials who earlier had insisted security measures were adequate promised a sweeping review. Digital photographing of all test-takers is one possible change.
The moves follow the arrests of seven former and current students at Great Neck North High School in what officials said was an SAT cheating scheme. Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice has said her investigation is continuing and more arrests are expected.
"No one despises cheating more than the College Board," Gaston Caperton, the Manhattan-based agency's president and a former West Virginia governor, said at the hearing held at Farmingdale State College. "We are deeply disturbed by the cases of test-taker impersonation that have recently been in the headlines."
Caperton said Tuesday the College Board, which offers the SAT to more than 2 million students in 170 countries each year, has hired a global risk-management firm headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh to review test security. He said he did not know how long that assessment will take.
Lack of ID scrutiny criticized
Bernard Kaplan, principal of Great Neck North, in his first public statement on SAT issues since the scandal broke, called ETS' test security "grossly inadequate."
"Make up a school, put any name you like and your picture on the card, sign that name and pick a mascot for good luck," said Kaplan, who noted the scheme did not involve SAT tests given at Great Neck district schools. "In fact, if you want to cover yourself, you don't even have to go to the site you requested. . . . You can go as a walk-in to any site that you desire using that made-up ID."
State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, and state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) praised Kaplan and other Great Neck school officials for reporting the cheating initially.
Caperton met withering criticism from lawmakers when he said heightened security might mean larger test fees, and he and ETS president Kurt Landgraf were sharply questioned about new statistics on SAT cheating and other irregularities that were much higher than previously disclosed.
Caperton said the nonprofit College Board already is considering numerous security changes on its own and is reminding directors at local high-school testing centers to carefully check student IDs the next time the test is given -- Nov. 5.
Last month, Rice announced the arrests of the students, including one graduate who was accused of accepting fees of up to $2,500 for impersonating the others and racking up high SAT scores on their behalf. After the arrests, Rice suggested digital photographs as one way to upgrade security and prevent test-taking impostors.
"Last week, ETS said that SAT cheating was a rare and isolated occurrence, and I'm glad they are beginning to acknowledge that this is a systemic problem in need of comprehensive reform," Rice said in a statement Tuesday, adding that "real changes are needed to restore confidence in SAT security."
Landgraf, president of ETS, the New Jersey-based agency that administers the SAT for College Board, cautioned in written testimony that any move to photograph test-takers must be carefully evaluated because it might "infringe the privacy interests of these young people."
College Board spokeswoman Kathleen Fineout Steinberg did not answer Newsday's questions about the cost and terms of the contract with Freeh Group International Solutions, except to say that "addressing the impersonation cases will be at the heart of their work." The Freeh Group had referred all questions to College Board.
Key lawmakers made it clear they are not waiting for College Board and ETS to take action.
Tighter rules, higher fee in store?
LaValle said he will introduce legislation in January aimed at tightened security. At a minimum, he said, such legislation would bar students caught cheating from retaking the SAT for a set period of time. Currently, such students are offered a chance to take the test again or to have their test fees returned. "Sadly, the losers in this are the honest, hardworking students who play by the rules," he said. "They prepare for this like they are preparing for the Super Bowl."
LaValle has sponsored landmark testing legislation in the past, including a 1979 law that required College Board for the first time to provide students with copies of their test responses, as well as the correct answers. Because New York students are major users of the SAT, that law and others that followed have affected testing procedures both nationwide and around the world.
"This is de facto the law of the land," said Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a Massachusetts-based group that opposes overuse of standardized tests. "In fact, this is the law of the world."
Lawmakers heard testimony that cheating on the SAT might be far more common than has been acknowledged. Until Tuesday, ETS officials had estimated that they invalidated the scores of about 1,000 students nationwide each year -- most frequently for copying other students' answers, rather than for impersonation.
That actually is a partial figure, covering the number of scores invalidated due to cheating or other improper student behavior reported by staff at school testing centers only.
ETS officials arrived at the hearing with more comprehensive figures, showing a total of 3,468 scores invalidated nationwide during the 2010-11 school year. That included additional cases reported by other school officials or ETS investigators.
In several sharp exchanges, legislators challenged Caperton's assertion that tighter security measures might require raising the test-taking fee, now $49. Some took note of the latest 2009 federal tax reports for nonprofit agencies showing that College Board collected nearly $660 million in revenue, $65.6 million more than expenses, and that the agency provided Caperton with a total $1.3 million in salary, bonus and incentive compensation.
"To me, that would be an outrage," declared Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone).
Recently, SAT officials posted a notice on an official website for local test administrators about the importance of carefully checking student IDs before the Nov. 5 session and rejecting any IDs that appeared altered or tampered with in any way. The notice also cautioned that the news media are to be barred from observing testing or taking photos.
With Kathleen Kerr
SAT security crackdown
The College Board/ETS:
Is providing enhanced training and information for test-center supervisors about security of test materials, test-takers' IDs, admission and seating and proctoring;
Considering changes in types and number of required identification;
Will conduct more post-test analysis to improve ability to identify impostors;
Is investigating digital photography as a tool for assuring test-takers' identity.
State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) says students whose scores are disqualified must be required to wait longer before they are allowed to retake SAT. He wants to revisit a law he authored, meant to protect students' privacy rights, that can prevent ETS from reporting cases of cheating to high schools or colleges.
School officials want to decrease the number of students taking tests outside their own districts and say ETS should increase test proctors' pay and training.
-- JO NAPOLITANO
PROBES ON LI
Authorities in September said they busted an SAT cheating scheme at Great Neck North High School in which students paid Sam Eshaghoff, a recent grad, up to $2,500 to assume their identifies and take the test for them. Here's where the case stands:
Eshaghoff, 19, an Emory University student, pleaded not guilty to criminal impersonation and other charges and is free on bail. He is due back in court Nov. 28, said his lawyer, Matin Emouna, of Mineola.
The cases of the six former and current Great Neck North students who were arrested on misdemeanor charges are proceeding through the court system but are sealed, said Chris Munzing, a spokesperson for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
The district attorney's office is investigating suspected cheating at Great Neck North, two other public school districts and one private school in Nassau, spokesperson Munzing said.
-- KATHLEEN KERR