The Irony and the Heartbreak of the SATs by Judy Bolton- Fasman
Written by
Judy Bolton-Fasman
December 2011
Written by
Judy Bolton-Fasman
December 2011

How can you cheat on the SATs? I count 9,600 ways. That’s the number of investigations Ray Nicosia’s office initiated over SAT testing improprieties during the 2010- 2011 academic year. Nicosia is the director of testing integrity for the Educational Testing Service – the group that administers the SAT – and the complaints he received ranged from fire alarms randomly going off during testing to alleged impersonations of test takers.

By now you’ve probably heard about one of the more striking SAT cheating scandals. It took place in Great Neck, N.Y., a tiny Long Island suburb complete with hyper parents who make their children crazy by expecting them to go to a school that tops the US News & World Report best colleges list.

Full disclosure: I’ve been known to act like one of those hyper parents. I bring a lot of navy blue baggage to my kid’s college application process. But it’s time for me to unpack right here, right now.

I recently read an article in The New York Times with the headline, “Being a Legacy Has Its Burdens.” Trust me: That can be true. My father and grandfather were Yale men. As part of research for a memoir I’m writing about my dad, I spent a few days last year in the basement of Yale’s Sterling Library, threading microfilm into a clunky viewing machine. I read Dad’s contributions to the Class of 1940’s class notes published in the Yale Alumni Magazine. I learned that in 1942 my father had somehow managed to get the final Yale-Harvard football score while at sea in the South Pacific. He reported that he was thrilled that the Yale football team had had the best season since his freshman year. He ended by saying that “[t]he spirit of Eli will haunt me until the day I die.” It did. And by extension that spirit haunted me for a long time.

When my sister, his second daughter, was born, Dad wrote into his class notes that he would start lobbying for co-education at Yale. Women were admitted to Yale five years later, in 1969. Ten years after that, I applied to Yale and planned on living in Dad’s old room in Branford College.

But I didn’t get into Yale. My father didn’t say much when I got the bad news. He didn’t have to. His eyes welled up when he read the rejection letter.

But that’s not the whole story. I had a full ride at a great liberal arts college and got a graduate degree at another Ivy League school. I married an Ivy Leaguer who went to Dad’s favorite school after Yale. I think that in the end I made my boola boola father proud. I’ve read various accounts that the suspected test takers charged their clients more than $3,000 for their services. They took the SAT at out-of-the-way test centers to ensure they wouldn’t be recognized. Fake identification cards came with the package. I marvel at the organization that went into the scam the same way I admire an evil genius. But what I can’t compute is how so much money changed hands without parents noticing?

At the center of the scandal is a 2010 Great Neck North High School graduate. Even as he was facing felony charges, Samuel Eshaghoff was studying for exams at Emory University, where he is a sophomore. The reports I read uniformly noted that Eshagoff guaranteed his clients scores ranging from 600 to 800 on each section of the SAT. He was also an expert at making fake identification cards. He was so good at it that he supposedly used fake IDs to take the SAT for two girls.

The Nassau County district attorney was right to bring criminal charges against the suspects. As of this writing, 20 people have been charged. But the real crime here is the untenable pressure we put on our kids. There are only eight Ivy League schools in this country, and they don’t have a lock on providing an outstanding education.

It’s ironic that the SAT was founded in 1934 to level the playing field by identifying outstanding students who were not from elite private schools. Sadly, taking the SAT has evolved into a bloodthirsty sport. We believe that filling in the correct dots seems to have the power to make or break a student’s career.

The reality is otherwise.

Listen up kids, I’m going to tell you something that has taken me almost three decades to understand fully: You can have a happy, successful life no matter where you go to college. It’s not where you get your education that matters. It’s what you do with that education after you graduate that counts.

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