NEW YORK (Reuters) - Twenty current and former students from five Long Island high schools face charges in what is believed to be the nation’s first criminal prosecution for cheating on the SAT college entrance exam, authorities said on Tuesday.
Students paid their peers as much as $3,600 to impersonate them and complete either the SAT or the ACT exam in the hopes of getting a higher score on test day, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said at a press conference.
Four of the five test takers are currently enrolled at Emory University, Tulane University, Indiana University and SUNY Stonybrook, Rice said. It was unclear whether the fifth person was a college student.
It was also unclear how many of the test takers had already graduated from high school when the crime took place.
“Educating our children means more than teaching them facts and figures. It means teaching them honesty, integrity, and a sense of fair play,” Rice said in a statement.
“The young men and women arrested today instead chose to scam the system and victimize their own friends and classmates, and for that they find themselves in handcuffs.”
The scandal widened on Tuesday with 13 current and former students facing charges, following the first wave of arrests of seven others in September.
The test takers face charges of first-degree scheming to defraud and second-degree falsifying business records and criminal impersonation.
If convicted, they face a maximum prison term of four years — the same length of time as the average college education.
The accused test takers were identified as Joshua Chefec, 20, a graduate of Great Neck North High School who now attends Tulane; Adam Justin, 19, a graduate of North Shore Hebrew Academy now at Indiana; Michael Pomerantz, 18, who attended Great Neck North High School; George Trane, 19, a graduate of Great Neck South High School now at Stonybrook and Sam Eshaghoff, 19, a graduate of Great Neck North High School now at Emory.
The students who paid to have tests taken for them will be prosecuted as youthful offenders, and their cases will remain sealed, Rice said.
The scandal broke in early 2011 when faculty members at top-ranked Great Neck North High School heard rumors that students had paid third parties to take the SAT for them. The paying students registered for tests at schools different from their own so they wouldn’t be recognized by the proctors, Rice said.
Representatives from the College Board, which sponsors the SAT, and the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, said that to the best of their knowledge, this was the first time anyone had been criminally charged for cheating on the exam.
Thomas Ewing, ETS Director of External and Media Relations, confirmed in an email that in over 2 million SAT exams taken annually, 3,000 tests are examined for irregularities, and of those, 1,000 test scores are canceled. Suspected impersonations make up, on average, 150 of those scores.
Ewing said that in the 2010-2011 school year, 138 scores were canceled based on handwriting analyses that indicated impersonation may have occurred. The vast majority of cancellations are for copying, Ewing added, not impersonation.
At a Senate hearing in October, Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, announced that it had hired the investigative firm of Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI, to probe into test security issues.
ACT is undergoing a security review and expects to implement additional guards against cheating over the next few months, Scott Gomer, ACT Media Relations Director, said in a statement.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune