So the recent scandal in Great Neck, NY is not surprising. Great Neck is an affluent suburb of New York City. It's no exaggeration to say that most of the parents there are highly-educated professionals or business people or that the community has far more than its share of people with advanced degrees from prestigious universities. As one might expect, kids grow up with great pressure and expectations about the kinds of schools they will get into and the kinds of careers they will pursue. Given that standardized tests play as important a role as they play in college admissions, students will do whatever they can to score as high as they can. As we have seen, for some, it means not taking the test themselves.
I am sure that Great Neck is not the first, nor will it be the last, community in which young people (or, more likely, their parents) pay for stand-ins to take the SAT and other standardized tests. Such things are inevitable as long as there is so much emphasis on credentialing, which makes the name of the school and the highest degree you attain in it even more important than almost any other attribute you may have.
I would argue that such emphasis on one's educational pedigree can only lead to so much focus on testing. John Ruskin once said that people know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Likewise, admissions officers, prospective employers--and even prospective spouses--might not know how to evaluate the qualities of the person who seeks admission, employment or another person's hand. Test scores and other easily manipulable numerical values give such people a false sense of being able to evaluate another person's intelligence, talent, commitment or other character traits. As a result, people who are vying for admissions, employment or simply a "yes" from the one with whom he or she is smitten, come to believe in the value, or at least the importance, of those scores. And anyone who wants the school, the scholarship, the job or the guy or girl badly enough will do whatever he or she will provide an advantage.
Perhaps even more disturbing--because it's also inevitable--is when teachers or administrators are the ones cheating. That is exactly what happened in Atlanta, among other places: educators actually changed the answers on their pupils' tests. But, really, is anyone surprised? After all, those teachers and educators were inculcated--perhaps to an even greater degree than other people--with the idea that those test scores are important.
Plus, the ones who are making educational policy are managers and bean-counters rather than educators. They have no more idea than anyone else has when it comes to separating "good" from "bad" schools. So they rely on test scores. In some cases, decisions about funding--or even as to which schools will remain open or not--are decided on the basis of students' test scores. It seems to me that those technocratic policy-makers, and the standardized test industry, are the main beneficiaries of the so-called No Child Left Behind Act.
And people wonder why, every few years, the world's economy is brought to its knees after some executive of Enron, Lehman Brothers or some other megalithic corporation "cooks the books"!