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College Entrance Exam Security Tightened After Scandal

Security at U.S. college entrance examinations will be tightened this fall after widespread cheating was disclosed last year, testing officials and the Nassau County, New York, district attorney’s office said.

Procedures to prevent students from hiring stand-in test-takers were announced today in the Long Island county, where students were charged last fall with hiring someone to take the SAT and ACT standard entrance tests for them.

Students registering for the exams will be required to provide photos of themselves that will be printed on their admission tickets and on a roster to be checked at the test site. Students may face spot checks of their identities, under a 10-point program.

“These reforms close a gaping hole in standardized test security that allowed students to cheat and steal admissions offers and scholarship money from kids who played by the rules,” District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice said at a news conference in Mineola, New York. “Honest applicants will not take a back seat to cheaters, and that those who cheat will be caught.”

Rice was joined by officials of ACT and the College Board, which runs the SAT test with the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey.

The scandal broke on Sept. 27, when six current and former students at Great Neck North High School -- located about 20 miles east of Manhattan -- were charged with taking part in a scheme to pay Samuel Eshaghoff, a Great Neck North alumni, from $1,500 to $2,000 to take their tests for them.

Reports of Cheating

The investigation began last year when faculty members at Great Neck North heard rumors that students were paying someone to take the SAT for them and identified six students who had sat for the test at a different school and whose academic records diverged from their SAT scores, Rice’s office said.

The students registered to take the exam at a different school, where they wouldn’t be recognized, and Eshaghoff presented identification bearing his photograph and the paying student’s name, Rice’s office said.

Eshaghoff, who attended Emory University in Atlanta last year after spending his freshman year at the University of Michigan, flew back from college at least once to impersonate two students and took the test twice in one weekend, and at one point took the exam for a female student, according to authorities.

Plea Agreement

He made a plea agreement with prosecutors to do community service, he told an interviewer on a January “60 Minutes” segment on CBS. Rice today declined to comment on his case.

Another 13 people were charged with cheating on the SAT and ACT tests on Nov. 22, after Rice’s office said it identified nine more students who paid four others $500 to $3,600 to take the examinations for them over three years. Their cases are pending, Rice said.

The district attorney’s office last year identified more than 50 students who took tests for others or hired stand-ins for themselves, according to today’s statement.

The Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit Princeton, New Jersey-based organization that administers the test, and the New York-based College Board, which sponsors the exam, said after the arrests that they hired former FBI director Louis Freeh’s organization to review security.

ACT hired Guideposts Solutions LLC, a New York-based consulting firm, to do its own internal investigation, the company said.

Impersonation Rare

Impersonation cases are rare, and the most common form of cheating is one student copying the work of another, Tom Ewing, an ETS spokesman, said after the first group of students was charged. Ewing said that ETS investigated the case for three to four months before contacting the district attorney’s office and handed over the information it had gathered.

With Rice were Jon Erickson, president of ACT Education, and Kathryn Juric, vice president of the College Board for the SAT program.

“Under our revised test security protocols, test security will be enhanced by the latest Web and photography technology, while being reinforced by the people who know the students best -- the teachers and counselors at their high schools,” Erickson said at the press conference.

Students who take the SAT or the ACT after the additional security measures are implemented won’t pay any new charges, Erickson and Juric said. The testing companies will cover the costs. ACT will use money from a cash reserve it has “for instances like this,” Erickson said.

Guidance counselors, school administrators and college admissions professionals will check to see if the student photos match, Rice said.

“High schools have to accept responsibility, period,” she said. “They’re going to be in the best position to know if a person who showed up to take the test is actually the person they purport to be.”

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