ALBANY -- Parents who help their children pay for someone to take the SAT for them should be charged with felonies, state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said Tuesday following a Senate committee meeting on legislation being drafted in response to the cheating scandal at Long Island schools.
While education committee members generally agreed that penalties for students who cheat should be limited to misdemeanors, LaValle, the panel's chairman, when asked whether parents should face felony charges, told Newsday, "Absolutely, they have facilitated a crime."
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has charged 20 current and former students from five schools on the Island's North Shore in the SAT cheating scandal since September. Five people who officials said took the tests for students were charged with felony fraud. Fifteen students were charged with misdemeanors, but no parents have been charged. Students allegedly paid between $1,500 to $3,500 to have people take their tests for them.
"Young people do not walk around with that kind of money," LaValle said. "There's probably a lot of pressure from parents for the students to get into competitive colleges. . . . In many of the cases, I just visualize that the parents are the cheerleaders and also provide the money for them to do this."
Rice spokesman John Byrne said in an email that parents were not charged because "we have no corroborated evidence of parental involvement."
Under the current statute, it's not clear whether parents could be charged with fraud. Byrne said the district attorney could charge the alleged test takers with fraud because they met a statutory threshold of having defrauded 10 or more people. While those who allegedly paid the test takers had participated in the fraud, not all of them met that threshold and the DA's office decided to charge them with misdemeanors, Byrne said.
LaValle's draft bill, which could begin circulating by the end of this week or next week, would take a three-pronged approach to dealing with cheating on standardized tests: beef up security measures to prevent impersonations; add greater deterrents, such as preventing a cheater from retaking the test for a year; and add new criminal penalties or clarify how existing penalties apply to education law.
Some committee members questioned whether new criminal penalties were necessary.
"It is shocking that people would come up with that kind of money, but the answer might just be requiring a little more identification when anybody takes a test," said state Sen. Joseph Robach (R-Rochester). Robach said he was concerned that if students were charged with felonies, they would become ineligible for student aid in the future.
LaValle plans to hold hearings on Jan. 24 and has invited the College Board, Educational Testing Services and the ACT to testify. Security experts will also testify on what kind of enhanced security measures could be taken to ensure that the people taking the test are who they say they are.