New York would make felonies out of cheating on the SAT college entrance test under a bill released Tuesday as part of a legislative investigation into a scandal in an affluent New York City suburb.
The measure proposed by Sen. Kenneth LaValle of Suffolk County would create new felonies of facilitation of education testing fraud and of scheming to defraud educational testing and create a misdemeanor of forgery of a test. The felonies would apply to a test taker who impersonates someone else for pay.
The bill also calls for photo identification and other ways to prove the test taker matches the name on the test. Other potential test security measures include fingerprinting and retinal scans.
LaValle said New York wants to lead the nation in preventing more cheating-for-pay scandals. A higher bar for security in the state would likely trigger national changes because of the large numbers of New Yorkers who take the SAT and other entrance tests.
"As they say, as New York goes, so does the country," said LaValle.
In Tuesday's hearing in Albany, LaValle and Sens. Toby Ann Stavisky of Queens and Lee M. Zelden of Suffolk County grilled members of The College Board, which administers the SAT. Each senator complained the company's testimony in November on Long Island wasn't helpful in finding solutions to the problem or in determining the extent of SAT cheating.
"We're not a law enforcement agency," said Tom Rudin, The College Board's senior vice president for advocacy, government relations and development. He said cheating schemes like the one reported in Long Island are extremely rare and only "a handful" of cases are referred to law enforcement, where the company usually didn't get a "warm reception."
The hearings were prompted by the September scandal in Nassau County involving 20 people accused of a cheating scheme that claims impostors were paid $500 to $3,600 to take tests in place of high schoolers.
Rudin said most cases are more traditional instances of cheating, such as looking over another test taker's shoulder for an answer. Most of the time, cheating is handled by eliminating a cheater's grade, Rudin said.
"In the end, it is the responsibility of local enforcement to take action," he said. "Again, we are deeply committed to working with local law enforcement."
Ray Nicosia of The College Board's office of testing integrity said the company is constantly updating its security measures.
"Such things as cellphones make our jobs more challenging," he testified. "But we, senator, have never had a case like this with sums of money changing hands."
"You can't close your eyes," LaValle told the testing company executives. He then made comparisons to allegations of years of sexual abuse of children by former assistant coaches at Penn State University and Syracuse University and to alleged cover-ups by school officials, saying transparency is needed in higher education.
"I would say to you that we're in a new era," LaValle said. "It happened at Penn State and happened at Syracuse, there are new rules ... and if we need to use legislation to spell that out more clearly, we'll do that."
Zelden said he wants The College Board and other testing companies to be more accountable and transparent when they catch cheaters.
"The only reason we know that happened in Nassau County is because we read about it in the paper," Zelden said. "You see the stuff and then you don't say anything ... I'm wondering what we are not reading in the newspaper."