I’m sure you’ve heard of Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin’s attempt to use “ringers” to take the SAT, alleged bribery of exam proctors to allow the “ringers” access to the test, and bizarre fake sports photos. In case you haven’t, here’s a news article from NBC News. Here are a couple of YouTube videos. from YouTubers I like, addressing this issue: Here’s one from Toronto gamer and cultural critic Liana K, https://youtu.be/C5Egg18A7o8 , and another from Michigan attorney Steve Lehto: https://youtu.be/7pcSZtzQ1S4 .
Personally, while I’m surprised the FBI actually ran this sting operation, I’m not surprised this was happening. SAT cheating through sketchy “tutors” and “admissions consultants” has been a huge plot point in several Jonathan Kellerman mystery/detective/police procedural novels. The only thing that surprises me is that famous Hollywood people would try something so vulgar and stupid as actually hiring a “ringer.”
Colleges often seek “diversity” based on students’ backgrounds. I recall being asked on the applications to elite colleges, the “cities and countries in which” I had lived – I’d only ever lived in one nice, but not very interesting, town all my life. It would seem the child of a star could answer “Oh, you know, Manhattan, Los Angeles, a little while in several European and Asian cities while my mother was on location for several blockbuster films in which she starred. Probably some other places that don’t spring to mind at the moment.” Furthermore, people with industry connections (especially politics or “the Industry” – i.e. show business) are always going to be courted by schools with undergraduate departments and/or graduate schools that seek to place their graduates in high-paying and influential positions. So, for example, colleges and universities with large political science departments, law schools, and theater departments will be more than happy to admit students whose parents just happen to be influential lawyers, judges, actors, producers, and directors. An oil tycoon might well “grease the skids” for his children’s college admissions by pointing out his or her oil company hires MANY geologists, and note that the university his or her children would like to attend has a nice geology department, and hey, couldn’t it use a new endowment?
Of course, while donating to a college or university isn’t a guarantee of admissions for your children, it can’t hurt (and probably will help). Neither of those things is at all dishonest or illegal, and if your kid can’t get into an elite college with those advantages you really need to let the kid go somewhere that meets his or her abilities and motivation. The old parental lecture springs to mind “What are you going to do when you’re out of college? Cheat in the workplace?” All right, some people probably can and will, but most of them will get caught eventually.
Now, while I’m not a huge fan of the SAT and ACT, none of the scandal can be laid at their feet. Bribing exam proctors wouldn’t seem like something I’d expect if I were running the College Board or American College Testing, and presumably their system of cross-checking scores with high school grades, etc. for outlier scores that might indicate cheating would catch most, if not all, cheaters. That’s why the College Board makes you agree that they can make you retake the test or go to arbitration with you if they think your score doesn’t reflect your ability, etc.
However, at the same time, there was a really stupid decision by the College Board for which only they can be responsible. Two of my students who took the SAT (yes, they took it themselves; no ringers involved 😉 ) They were told, on the day of the test, that there would be a 5th, experimental, section, before the essay. It wasn’t a full-length section, and at least one of my students heard an announcement that the section was experimental, some would get a math section, others would get a writing section, and others would get a reading section. Experimental sections aren’t new to the SAT, but in previous years they didn’t TELL STUDENTS which section it was, and obviously everyone got the same kind of section as an experimental section.
Why would that matter, you ask? It’s simple – once the students knew that section didn’t count, they didn’t try, for the most part. Many suddenly “needed to use the restroom.” My one student who went into detail about his experience said he genuinely tried, but noted many others decided to use the restrooms, nap, etc., then simply guess at the end. Since the intention of having an experimental section is to test possible new SAT questions under real-life conditions, the method used on Saturday defeated the purpose, since many students didn’t take that section seriously. Additionally, the students were all annoyed at having to spend an extra hour or more at the test site for this. It would have been a really good idea to let students know in advance that there would be an extra experimental section on the test.
In the end, it looks like the College Board needs to spruce up its security and product testing – they’re not going to be influential for very long if people think people can get away with cheating and the College Board doesn’t care about wasting the honest students’ time. That’s my two cents on these issues- what are yours? Feel free to comment below.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.