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LaValle to hold hearings on SAT security

SAT tutor Amy Fortsch, center, coaching students Laura

SAT tutor Amy Fortsch, center, coaching students Laura Isaacson, left, and Zoe Daniels. (Sept. 30, 2011) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A lawmaker Friday announced a public hearing aimed at tightening security for the test that serves as a gateway to millions of college applicants worldwide.

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said that in response to an expanding test-fraud scandal, the hearing later this month would consider stricter legal sanctions on cheaters. One possibility: barring students who cheat from retaking the SAT for a period of time, after their initial scores are invalidated.

In a phone interview, the senator voiced dissatisfaction with what he described as a lack of response by test administrators to the scandal. He also expressed outrage over the possibility that cheaters might have taken away college slots from more deserving classmates.

"You know, I'm really motivated by the students who were put at a disadvantage, the ones who dotted all the i's and crossed the t's," said LaValle, chairman of the Senate's higher education committee.

On Tuesday, the Nassau County district attorney's office charged a Great Neck graduate, Sam Eshaghoff, 19, with taking payments of as much as $2,500 from each of six other students from the same district to take the exam for them. Eshaghoff has denied all charges.

Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J., which administers the exams, does not notify colleges of alleged cheating. Instead, ETS cancels students' scores and offers them arbitration, refunds or free retesting.

LaValle plans to examine ETS' security system and related issues during one or more public hearings, with an eye toward sponsoring new legislation to tighten enforcement.

An ETS spokesman, Thomas Ewing, defended the system saying his agency has confidentiality agreements with test takers that bar release of information without their permission or a court order.

LaValle also reached out to ETS president Kurt Landgraf to ask if the agency would beef up security on its own. Friday, the senator expressed dissatisfaction with Landgraf's response but declined to discuss details. Newsday attempted to contact Landgraf, and was referred to Ewing, who did not return calls.

As thousands of Island students sit for the SAT on Saturday, many schools are taking extra precautions. Naomi Bisk, test coordinator at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, said she would tell proctors to take special care in checking IDs, referring any questionable cases to her.

"Obviously, this event heightens our awareness, which is always a good thing, and improves vigilance," she said.

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