Catching academic cheaters

For some children, the pressure to succeed academically supersedes any moral or ethical code of conduct. Sometimes they give in to the temptation to cheat. One New York school knows about this all too well.

Three years ago, at Great Neck North High, then-19-year-old-recent-graduate Samuel Eshagoff was charged with taking the SAT for other students for a fee, getting paid up to $3,000 per exam. The money rolled in fast and furious.

Prosecutors say Eshagoff took the SAT for at least 15 students over a three-year period. It turns out there were other alleged test takers and many more paying for the illegal service.

The school eventually found out, and brought the scandal to the attention of Kathleen Rice, newly elected to Congress after spending years as the Nassau County district attorney.

District Attorney Rice said that back in 2011 her office identified 55 cases of cheating, 20 of which were prosecuted. Three years later, a private guidance counselor who advises students at Great Neck North High School told us the pressure to succeed is as intense as ever.

While that pressure to succeed at Great Neck North is as palpable as ever, a lot has changed nationwide when it comes to taking the sat since the scandal here.

The College Board runs the SAT from its headquarters in Manhattan and has stepped up its id requirements.

Rice said students are now asked to show their ids more than once and must write down the name of their high school.

But, more cheaters than you ever imagined may be out there. The nonprofit Josephson Institute in Los Angeles surveyed more than 20,000 students nationwide for its 2012 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth.

49 percent said they never cheat; 51 percent admit to cheating at least once. And more than half of those said they cheated two or more times.

The same survey asked if a person has to lie or cheat sometimes to succeed.

64 percent said no. But 36 percent said yes. And it appears some of those who said yes are also saying yes to getting research papers off the Internet.

One website we found even pitches the perks of purchasing as allowing you to then focus on more important life matters. This site told Fox 5 that what it does is perfectly legal.

For students tempted to use web sites like that, Mahopac High School is making sure it's not happening in their own school. Mahopac teachers use software called Turnitin to catch cheaters. Turnitin bills itself as being able to quickly compare a student's text to a vast database of more than 45 billion pages of digital content and over 337 million submissions from other students stored in its own archive as well as 130,000-plus professional, academic and commercial journals and publications.

The company told us that in the last five years it has been placed in about one-fourth of the nation's high schools -- mostly smaller, suburban districts. A handful of New York City schools use it, but not the whole district.

Like other academic institutions, Mahopac pays a licensing fee to use Turnitin. The school wouldn't say how much, but was eager to say that the software snags cheaters.

Other academic institutions are taking a completely different approach to curb cheating. To get into Manhattanville College, in Purchase, New York, you do not need an outstanding standardized test score. In fact, you don't need one at all. Instead, admissions officers look at a prospective student's overall academic records and school community involvement, according to Vice President Nikhil Kumar.

But for most students, the reality is that solid test scores are still a big deal, and, therefore, so is the temptation to cheat.

Pride and integrity are better than any software or admissions process, perhaps the best antidote to cheating that exists.

Eshagoff's attorney told Fox 5 that his case was sealed. A spokesperson for the district attorney said the same was true for others who were charged.

Administrators at Great Neck North did not return repeated calls to participate in this story.

You can download a PDF of the ethics study cited in this report.