The Long Island SAT Cheating Scandal – Has America Lost Its Way?

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I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.

~ Sophocles

Update 12/31: Mr. Eshagoff, one of the students involved in the Great Neck cheating scandal, expressed little remorse for his actions, and got the attention of the Nassau Country DA, who now says that instead of community service tutoring children, Mr. Eshagoff can pick up trash. Sounds like a good life lesson to me. After the DA’s announcement, Mr. Eshagoff wrote on his Facebook page that he is sorry. Unfortunately, that’s not what he said on TV according to “60 Minutes.”

Mr. Eshagoff is only one of about 40 students involved in the scam but they get to have their names kept out of the news because they are 17 and not 19. Their names should be released and their records should not be expunged.

Original Story: I was an administrator in an elite North Shore school district in Nassau County, Long Island, in the 90’s. One day, I walked in on a meeting with a social worker and a student. The social worker was in the act of whiting out a science teacher’s grade on the student’s transcript while the student looked on. The plan was to change the grade from a B to an A.

Parents complained frequently that this particular science teacher was too tough a grader and the pressure was intense to get the teacher to ease up on the students. Since a good number of students were able to do well in his class, I didn’t find the teacher as impossibly harsh as parents or students would have everyone believe. He was a no-nonsense guy who expected students to keep up with his pace. He taught Physics and Chemistry, not basket weaving.

One has to ask oneself how could a social worker change a grade and do it in front of a student? What lesson did that student learn? Fortunately, the social worker quit.

It wasn’t long after that when we had our own SAT scandal. Students were cheating on the test, using crib sheets. At the time, we reported the students to the SAT board who banned them from taking the test for several years if memory serves. Shortly after, a school official in another affluent district was arrested for changing grades. The police took him out in handcuffs in front of the students. I thought that was a good lesson for the students to learn.

Recently, the prestigious Great Neck school district had several students involved in an SAT cheating scandal. One of those involved was Sam Eshaghoff, 19, who was paid to take SAT tests for unaccomplished students.

Apparently, he thinks he was performing a service and, as he said, “A kid who has a horrible grade-point average, who, no matter how much he studies is going to totally bomb this test,” Eshaghoff says, “By giving him an amazing score, I totally give him … a new lease on life. He’s going to go to a totally new college … be bound for a totally new career … new path in life,”

So, he’s saying he’s performing a service for mankind instead of owning up to being a liar and a cheat.

That’s not all, when asked about the fact that he deprived honest students from getting a spot in a good school, he said this, “He really wasn’t displacing somebody … I feel confident defending the fact that [my clients] getting into the schools that they ended up getting into didn’t really affect other people,” he says. Eshaghoff regrets the shame his arrest caused his family and says if he could start over, he “never would have done it.”

I’m glad he feels shame. Shame is underrated and undervalued. We need more of it in our society. Other than that, he has clearly rationalized his actions and he most certainly did take a seat from a deserving student.

He himself gets to attend Emory and he has sent almost 20 non-deserving students to colleges they do not belong in.

Neither he nor the other cheaters will spend a day in jail. Seriously, these kids need some jail time. They committed fraud. Did he pay taxes on the money he made? Where is the IRS?

In upper class districts, the peer and parent pressure to succeed on tests and college entrance exams is intense. When we wonder why so many of our business people and politicians are connected to cheating scandals, maybe we should consider that it could be because we are sending the wrong messages to young people, messages which become ingrained in their ethical makeup.

Interestingly, both Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy were almost thrown out of their respective colleges for cheating, Biden for plagiarizing and Kennedy for cheating on tests.

Mr. Eshagoff’s interview will air on 60 minutes this Sunday and you can decide for yourself how you feel about his line of reasoning.

Newsday offers some of the transcript –

Sam Eshaghoff: I mean my track record speaks for itself. Like if you know somebody’s so stellar at doing something so flawlessly, without one exception it goes without saying that’s a reliable service.
Alison Stewart: Were you invested at all in the score you would get?
Sam Eshaghoff: Oh yeah, absolutely. Just like any other business person, you wanna have a good track record, right? And essentially like my whole clientele were based on word of mouth and like a referral system. So as soon as like as soon as I saved one kid’s life,
Alison Stewart: Saving his life?
Sam Eshaghoff: Saving his life. {Editor’s note: Is he equating himself with a firefighter, soldier, social worker?]

Alison Stewart: What do you mean by saving his life?
Sam Eshaghoff: I mean a kid who has a horrible grade point average, who no matter how much he studies is gonna totally bomb this test, by giving him an amazing score I totally give him this like a new lease on life. He’s gonna go to a totally new college, he’s gonna be bound for a totally new career, and a totally new path in life.

This kid needs to find his moral compass. Instead of trying to justify his behavior, he should crawl into mea culpas as soon as possible. There’s plenty of forgiveness waiting for him if he does, but this line of rationalization is deeply disappointing to those of us who want to look forward to a new and improved generation to take our place.

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