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Seven arrested in SAT cheating scandal in New York

September 27, 2011 |  4:02 pm

Photo: Sample SAT questions. Credit: Los Angeles Times He was allegedly paid to take college entrance exams for six students from a top-rated Long Island high school, and now Sam Eshaghoff, 19, is facing criminal charges that carry a sentence of up to four years in jail.

Eshaghoff and the six students from Great Neck North High School were arrested Tuesday morning by investigators for the Nassau County District Attorney. Eshaghoff is charged with scheming to defraud, falsifying business records and criminal impersonation; the six students, whose names are being withheld because of their ages, face misdemeanor charges and were arraigned in a closed courtroom.

They left without comment and with coats draped over their heads, according to the Associated Press.

Eshaghoff, who prosecutors say used the money he raised as a test taker to pay for a gym membership, was led in handcuffs Tuesday afternoon into a Long Island courtroom, where he pleaded not guilty and was held on $1,000 bond or $500 bail. His mother left court without commenting.

Nassau County Dist. Atty. Kathleen Rice said in a statement that teachers at Great Neck North, considered one of the best schools in the nation, had heard rumors earlier this year that someone using  fraudulent identification was taking the college entrance tests for students.

Adminstrators reviewed records of students who had taken the SAT at schools other than Great Neck North, where proctors wouldn’t know them. The administrators picked up on a pattern of large discrepancies between the SAT scores and the academic performance of the six students who have been charged.

Prosecutors say Eshaghoff, a 2010 graduate of Great Neck North who is a second-year student at Emory University in Atlanta, flew home at least once primarily to impersonate two students and that he took the SAT twice in one weekend. They also claim he took the test once for a female student but did not charge her.

Eshaghoff allegedly demanded a fee of between $1,500 and $2,500 per student to take a test. Rice’s office is investigating whether he also took the exam for students at other high schools in Nassau County and whether others were involved in a similar scheme involving other professional test takers.

The prosecutors said in a statement that they were told by officials at the Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit organization that administers the test, that they had conducted an investigation but were unable to provide documentation as a result of a computer crash.

But spokesman Tom Ewing said the ETS not only conducted its own investigation into the allegations, but that it cooperated fully both with the school district and prosecutors, turning records over to both. Ewing also said this kind of scandal involving a breach in the ETS security standards was a rare occurance.

"It’s not an issue that surfaces very often," Ewing told The Times. "The vast majority of cheating cases involve one student copying off another."

Rice used the arrests Tuesday to warn students taking SATs this Saturday "that if you cheat, you can face serious criminal consequences.”

Great Neck school officials also said in a statement that they hoped the investigation would curtail further cheating.

"Needless to say, the Great Neck School District does not tolerate cheating," Superintendent Thomas P. Dolan said in a statement. "It is our hope that the actions currently being taken by the district attorney's office will serve to bring an end to any dishonest practices which may have placed students at an unfair disadvantage and will also bring to light any shortcomings in the security of the SAT testing system."

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-- Geraldine Baum in New York

Photo: Sample SAT questions. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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