The Perfect Score: Cheating on the SAT

How did college student Sam Eshaghoff get away with taking the SAT and ACT college admissions exams for more than a dozen high school students, earning thousands of dollars each time? Alison Stewart reports.

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Landgraf says, according to their data, of the three million students who take the SAT every year, more than 99 percent do so honestly. His organization spends $11 million on SAT test security annually.

Stewart: Do you know how many times Sam Eshaghoff took the SAT?

Landgraf: Actually, I don't.

Stewart: Sixteen times. Does that surprise you?

Landgraf: No.

Stewart: That he was able to get by your proctors 16 times?

Landgraf: Well, if he had an ID with his picture on it and a name and the registration document had that name on it, he could get in, sure. No, unfortunately it doesn't surprise me.

Stewart: Does it concern you about the integrity of your test? If one teenage kid can do that 16 times and that's all that we know about, from him alone?

Landgraf: Yeah, so the integrity of the test, the validity of the test score is the primary concern of ETS and the College Board. Since I believe that almost all the students take the test honestly, with integrity, and the score is valid, it's very important that we not overreact to this case or any future cases. And do things that would be onerous and detrimental to the actual long term security or access for the administration.

Rice: Sam Eshaghoff is a smart kid. But you don't have to be a brainiac to cheat the system the way it exists at this present time. There's absolutely no security procedure in place. Any review is done after the fact. Which prevents any level of accountability once cheaters are caught. And that system has to change.

[District attorney press conference: We now know that the security vulnerabilities we exposed in September are a systemic problem.]

Since Eshaghoff's arrest, the investigation has grown. More than 50 students have been implicated in what District Attorney Rice calls well-run cheating operations in four different New York counties. Rice says she discovered a sophisticated system of brokers who would match buyers and sellers based on their ability to pay and their ability to score.

Rice: We know there are students who met with someone who acted as a middleman who said, 'Tell me what you want. Tell me what you need. How much money do you have? Ok, I'll set up the test-taker. And they'll take the test for you.' I mean, this is big business. And it didn't just start in 2011. This has been going on, this criminal impersonation has been going on for years. Decades. All across the country.

Sam Eshaghoff was caught after several of his clients, students with suspiciously high scores, were questioned and confessed.

Six weeks ago, Eshaghoff's legal team accepted a plea deal which includes community service: tutoring low-income students on how to take the SAT.

Stewart: Was there ever a point when you were taking these tests that you had a conversation with yourself that went like this: 'Sam, I know I'm doing the wrong thing, I'm lying here. This is not right. I gotta stop this.' Did you ever have that conversation with yourself?

Eshaghoff: Yeah I did. It was tough. I knew I was doing the wrong thing. I fully acknowledge that this was the wrong move. And I gotta stop this. But I was low on cash and I just told myself, "One last time, one last time, one last time..."

Stewart: You feel bad about what you did?

Eshaghoff: If I could start over, I never would have done it.

Eshaghoff is back at college now and if you're wondering what happened to the kids he helped get into school, their colleges will never be notified about what they did. Because it is ETS policy not to tell schools about cases of suspected or confirmed cheating.

Rice: We know there are kids in college right now who got where they are because of tests that someone else took and there's nothing that we can do about it. If that doesn't tell you that the system has to change, I don't know what does.