Opinion

Do We Really Need to Turn the SAT Into a Mini-TSA Security Hub?

In the past several months, we have seen increasing attacks on the SAT test, including its alleged racial bias. Additionally, activists have been pushing colleges and universities to adopt a test-optional policy, which would give each student the option to exclude test results from his or her college admissions package.

Last month, seven students were arrested in an alleged SAT cheating scandal at a high school in Great Neck, New York, a suburb located on Long Island. A graduate of that high school, who now attends Emory University is accused of taking the SAT test for six current high school students. 

The response from the Nassau County District Attorney has been swift: the college student has been charged with several offenses, including falsifying business records, and the high school students also face criminal prosecution.

There's no question that cheating is serious. It must be dealt with immediately and with the appropriate repercussions. Is the criminal justice system, however, the appropriate venue for a disciplinary action that should be addressed at the school district level and with parental involvement? 

Raising further questions is the fact that the chairman of the New York State Senate Higher Education Committee, Sen. Kenneth LaVelle of Long Island, has called for a legislative hearing on the scandal and SAT testing security on Tuesday, October 25. 

Today, Senator LaVelle plans to hold a three hour hearing titled "Truth in Testing: A Comprehensive Look at Standardized Testing Security Procedures" at the State University at Farmingdale.

As a mother of two school-aged children and a lawyer, I completely agree with taking the necessary measures to prevent testing scandals and to send the message to students that this behavior will not be tolerated. 

I am not convinced, however that we need to engage in criminal prosecutions or hold a three hour hearing to accomplish this goal.

The SAT test is administered in 7,000 locations in 170 countries and a decision by the administrators of the SAT to immediately change their security measures would not only create a bureaucratic nightmare, it would also create barriers to testing among some students and could lead to an anxiety-ridden process for the very students they are trying to help. Do we really need to turn the SAT into a mini-TSA security hub?

To their credit, the College Board and Educational Testing Services, which administers the SAT, maintain that they regularly review security measures and make enhancements, as long as they do not impact the exam's costs or complicate logistics. 

The SAT test has been around for decades and cheating on the test involves a miniscule number of students. Responsibility for handling student behavior lies at the feet of the local school districts, parents, and the students themselves. Therefore, the school districts need to emphasize to students and parents that there are serious repercussions for cheating and then follow through on those admonitions.

I can certainly understand that the Nassau County District Attorney's office and the state legislature would like to eradicate cheating, but these actions will not result in a good use of taxpayers' money. 

Bottom line: let the prosecutors focus on crime and not students who are cheating. And let the school district and parents spend more time on disciplinary procedures.

Cherylyn Harley LeBon is member of the National Advisory Council of Project 21. She is a former Senior Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow her on Twitter @HarleyLeBon.