This is Sam
In high school, Sam Eshaghoff was known as a smart young man and a very good student. He got good grades at Great Neck North High School in New York, and had done very well on his standardized tests, allowing him to get into a good college. But when he was 19 years old and a sophomore at Emory University, he was arrested, along with six other current and former students from his high school. What went wrong? Read on to find out.
Every student in the United States knows about the dreaded SAT exam. Not only is it a long and intensive exam, it is one of the most important tests that high school students have ever taken. The test is three hours and 50 minute long, and includes three sections – reading, math, and writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 200-800, so the total grade of all three sections comes out to a maximum of 2400.
An important test
The reason that students are so stressed out about their grade on the SAT exam is that it plays a central role in determining college admissions. For this reason, many students spend months preparing for the test, which they see as a make-or-break for their future. This really puts a lot of pressure on students, who know that one bad day can ruin their chances of getting into the college of their dreams. This is where Sam came into the picture.
Sam had a talent
Not only was Sam Eshaghoff a good student at Great Neck North, he was also great at taking tests, and everyone knew it. Sam was able to get top scores on all of his standardized tests without too much effort. We all know that in high school, everyone knows everyone else’s business, so once Sam discovered his ability to successfully take tests, the news spread around the school. And that’s what led to Sam’s business idea.
A school secret
When it came to taking the SAT exams, Great Neck North High School students had a secret. There were students who knew how to cheat the system, how to succeed on the test even though they had no chance of getting the high grade they wanted. You see, when one exam has the potential to make such a difference in your life, you’re going to try to figure out how to do well, even if it’s not entirely legal.
A good student
According to Sam, the way to cheat on the SAT was an open secret among students at Great Neck North. Students who did well on their own SAT could take it for students who were worried that they would not succeed in getting the score they wanted. Sam said he had heard of it happening with students at his school, but that he had never considered taking part in the scam. At least, he didn’t consider it until another student approached him with a proposition.
One day, a student came up to Sam and suggested something that might sound crazy. The student told Sam that he knew that Sam was good at taking the SAT, and the he wasn’t. “You know this is possible,” he said to Sam, “so how much is it gonna take?” The student was suggesting that Sam take the important and challenging SAT exam in his place, getting him a good grade. And in exchange, Sam would receive payment.
Taking the test
At first Sam was hesitant. After all, what the student was suggesting was illegal. But Sam was a high school student at the time, and the prospect of making some extra cash was tempting. So, he decided to give it a shot. After all, he could make a whole lot of money in those three hours and 50 minutes that it took to take the exam. It was scary though, because Sam knew he could get in a lot of trouble if he got caught.
How he did it
According to Sam, the system was very easy to trick. At the time, students taking the SAT exam just had to show one of six different forms of photo identification when they arrived at the test-taking site. One of those was a student ID. So, Sam got the template for his school’s student ID, pasted his picture on it, and used the name of the student he was taking the test for. He printed it, laminated it, and was good to go.
It was really that easy for Sam to get past security and take the SAT exam as someone else. The teenager called the security for the SAT and ACT, another college entrance exam, “pathetic.” He went on to claim that “anyone with half a brain” would be able to get past the lax security at the testing centers. On top of that, the proctors were lower staff members who didn’t know anything about the exam or the students taking it, so it was no problem to fool them as well.
The first exam
The first time that Sam sat the SAT exam for another student, he was very nervous. Even though it was easy to trick the proctor, he had never done it before. He was also anxious about getting a good grade. Sam looked at his test taking scam as a business, and like any businessman, he knew that his reputation was important. So he wanted to do the best he could so people would know that they could count on him, and he would be able to make more money.
When Sam found out how he did on the exam, he was thrilled, and so was the student he had taken it for. Sam aced the test, even getting a perfect score on the math section. He realized that it was easy for him, that he was good at it, and that he could make a lot of money doing it. And so, Sam began his lucrative business, taking the SAT exam for other students, who he called his “clients.”
Over the next three years, Sam took the SAT exam at least 15 times. He charged students between $1,500 and $2,500 to take the test for them, sometimes even starting a bidding war between two students who both wanted to take advantage of his service. Sam consistently did well on the SAT, scoring in the 97th percentile or even higher. His grades ranged from 2140 to 2220 out of 2400, and one student was so happy with his score that he gave Sam a $1,100 tip.
Officials get suspicious
Sam’s business seemed too good to be true, and it was. In 2011, school officials began to catch wind of rumors that students were cheating on the SAT. They then noticed SAT scores that didn’t match students’ grade point averages – students with poor academic achievements who scored disproportionately high on the SAT were suspicious. When they noticed that the handwriting on the essay section of the exam was the same for these students, they knew that they had found a problem.
The school officials matched the suspicious handwriting to Sam Eshaghoff, and when he heard that he was wanted, he turned himself in. Sam’s three years of making money by cheating on the SAT had come to an end. He was arrested, along with six other students from his school who he had taken the SAT exam for. Sam was charged with scheming to defraud, falsifying business records and criminal impersonation, and his bond was set at $1,000 or $500 cash.
Changes to the system
After Sam and the other students were caught and their method of cheating was revealed, the company behind the SAT exam, called The College Board, took a closer look at their security measures. They made a change, requiring students to upload or mail in a picture of themselves when they sign up for the exam, which will then be matched with the ID they show when they take the exam. They may also conduct further checks at unannounced testing locations, making it more risky to impersonate another student.
Helping other students
While Sam knew that what he was doing was illegal, he also felt that he was helping others. He said that he was giving students a new chance for a better future. Students who don’t do well in high school and can’t get a high SAT score will not be accepted to good colleges. Sam said that he was changing those students’ lives. “He’s gonna go to a totally new college. He’s gonna be bound for a totally new career and a totally new path on life,” said Sam.
He knew it was wrong
However, if given the chance to go back, Sam said he would not repeat what he had done. He said that he “knew he was doing the wrong thing,” and that he felt that he should stop. But the money was too good, so he kept doing it one more time. Maybe he should have trusted his instincts, but it was hard to stop once he started. After the fact, Sam said, “If I could start over, I never would have done it.”
Problems with the system
The case of Sam Eshaghoff revealed a problem with the system of standardized testing. In addition to the ease with which students cheat, many people question the validity of one test being able to have such a large impact on a student’s future. A very smart student can be a terrible test taker, or just have a bad day, and their chances at getting into their dream school can be crushed. The standardized test may not be the best way to measure a student’s intelligence.
Cheating on the SAT
According to the president of the Educational Testing Service, 150 impersonations were discovered in one year, and those are just the instances that were caught. And when the testing service does find a suspicious case, they don’t report it to the colleges due to privacy rules. In addition, there were surely many more students who cheated on the SAT without ever being discovered, and those students may have gotten into universities with test scores that were not their own.
A fitting punishment
After Sam was arrested, he and his lawyer were able to reach a plea deal, so he would not have to spend time in prison. Instead, he received a very fitting punishment – Sam had to do community service, tutoring low-income students on how to succeed on the SAT. Now, years later, he seems to have come a long way since his days of cheating on the SAT. Sam finished college, got a masters degree, and is living in New York City working in real estate.