In interviews this month, more than three dozen students, alumni and teachers said that large-scale cheating, like an episode in June when 71 juniors were caught exchanging answers to state Regents exams through text messages, was rare at Stuyvesant. But lower-level cheating, they said, occurs every day.
Most often, it takes the form of a few math homework answers copied wholesale from a shared note on , or the form of tip-offs from classmates who took a history exam a few hours earlier. Some go further, hiding formulas in a sleeve or in a bathroom stall, Googling facts on an or snapping a photo of test questions to send to a smart friend for help.
Survival at All Costs
At Stuyvesant, the alma mater of four Nobel laureates, students say the social currency is academic achievement.
Although students enter the school knowing they are among the best in the city, they must compete with hundreds just like them. And, they say, the pressures only grow: they are convinced that they are bound for bright futures, yet not all are equipped for the work that entails. They are trained to hand in every assignment without always believing in its value. They described teachers as being relatively sympathetic, discouraging cheating, but not always punishing it as severely as school policy dictates.
All this makes for a culture in which many students band together, sharing homework and test advice in a common understanding that they simply have to survive until they reach their goals: dream colleges and dream jobs.
“I’m sure everybody understood it was wrong to take other people’s work, but they had ways of rationalizing it,” said Karina Moy, a 2010 graduate of the school. “Everyone took it as a necessary evil to get through.”
It is not clear how common academic dishonesty is at Stuyvesant or other large, competitive schools, and several of those interviewed said that they had never cheated. When the school’s newspaper, The Spectator, conducted a survey of 2,045 students in March, 80 percent said they had cheated in one way or another.
Michael Josephson, the president of the Josephson Institute, which researches ethics in society, said a 2010 survey of 40,000 high-school students found that 59 percent had cheated on a test during the previous year, with one in three admitting they had used the Internet to plagiarize — and one in four admitting they had lied on the survey itself.
For Stuyvesant freshmen, who are admitted based on a citywide exam, receiving their first test score can be a moment of reckoning, said Josina Dunkel, who teaches global studies and Advanced Placement European history. She said she began seeing so many freshmen submit the same answers to homework that she stopped allowing them to type their assignments, reasoning that if they had to write them by hand, they might be less likely to copy answers online.
“It’s a major eye-opener,” Ms. Dunkel said. “Suddenly, they’re in an environment where every single kid is really just as smart as they are. How do you distinguish yourself as being a top student, which is where their identity has always been?”
By the time they reach junior year — when it is not uncommon to have three tests in a week and when May and June bring a cascade of Advanced Placement, Regents and final exams, along with the SAT — many students have become adept at beating the system.
One pair developed a tapping system for multiple-choice tests — once for A, twice for B and so on, recalled Nils Axen, a 2011 graduate now at . Others wrote formulas on their forearms or on the insides of water bottles.
The New Methods
There are newer methods, too, despite the school’s longstanding ban on using cellphones during the day, students said. (The new interim principal, Jie Zhang, has announced that students will no longer be able to use laptops or iPads during the day, and she has redoubled enforcement of the cellphone ban.)
“Writing on your hand, that’s kiddie stuff,” said Melissa, a senior who, like some current and former students, spoke only on the condition that her full name not be used for fear of repercussions. “The way we do it is to take a picture, and then it’s the domino effect. One person has it, then the whole class has it.”
By junior year, almost everyone has seen the statistics posted on the college office’s Web site listing the grade-point averages and SAT scores of those who were rejected or accepted to dozens of colleges. “It becomes kind of a number game,” said Elias Weinraub, 18, who is now a freshman at in . “It was kind of addictive, in a bad way, in a sick way. People will assume, well, I have a 92, most kids who got into that school got a 94, so there’s no way I can get in.”
Although Stuyvesant has a reputation for being cutthroat, students say collaboration, not competition, is the norm. Several framed the collaboration as banding together against a system designed to grind them down. Many classes have private Facebook groups that students use to exchange advice or, sometimes, to post full sets of answers for classmates to copy. Take-home exams are seen as an invitation to work together.
A recent graduate now at described the year she spent giving out her physics homework for classmates to copy — first, one or two students; then, much of the class — because she wanted to be helpful. At one point, a girl who regularly borrowed her homework arranged an exchange the day before an assignment was due, and at that point, she realized her classmates were simply relying on her to do their work.
Still, she said of her classmates, “I respect them and think they have integrity.”
“They’re proud of their achievements in college,” she added, “and sometimes the only way you could’ve gotten there is to kind of botch your ethics for a couple things.”
Most common of all, those who take exams in earlier class periods are expected to help their friends who take the same tests in later periods, several students said. And though most appear to understand that they are violating the rules, some students seem unsure about where helping ends and cheating begins.
“The lines did get a little blurry,” Alison Reed, 17, a senior, said.
“It’s seen as helping your friend out,” Daniel Kanovich, 17, a senior, said. “If you ask people, they’d say it’s not cheating. I have your back, you have mine.”
The Regents cheating ring was exposed when the principal, Stanley Teitel, was tipped off about a student who had used his phone to share answers with other students. The student, Nayeem Ahsan, told New York magazine that for the physics Regents exam, one of his strongest subjects, he had finished early and had sent answers to several dozen classmates; in exchange, he got help on the American history Regents exam and a city Spanish exam, two of his weaker subjects.
Nayeem and 11 other students were given 10-day suspensions, and more than 50 others are facing suspension of up to five days, according to the . Connie Pankratz, a department spokeswoman, said privacy laws prevented the city from disclosing Nayeem’s status at Stuyvesant, but she said that “no student was involuntarily transferred from the school.”
Yet in general, students said that harsh discipline was not the norm and that many teachers were so understanding of the pressure students faced that they would hand out lighter punishments for cheating. Anticheating measures, like running essays through the antiplagiarism Web site and checking for cellphones, were common, students said. But so were steps like telling students who were copying homework simply to put it away and allowing those cheats to retake tests, despite policies that prescribe a range of punishments, from giving a zero on the assignment up to suspending the student.
A recent graduate said that near the end of her senior year, a teacher caught one of the student’s friends taking a math test with a sheet of formulas held in her lap. But knowing that the girl had been accepted into an school, the teacher let the student off with a warning because he did not want to jeopardize her enrollment.
“Everyone is aligned that Stuy is a difficult place, but people are much more forgiving than people think they are,” the alumna said.
Mr. Teitel retired over the summer; like Ms. Zhang, he declined to be interviewed. But Ms. Zhang has promised to alter Stuyvesant’s culture. She announced that all students would have to review and sign an honor policy that promises punishment for those who fail to turn in cheats, as well as for the cheats themselves, students said. Teachers were directed to talk about the policy on academic honesty at the beginning of every class on the first day of school. English teachers were instructed to discuss the policy in depth, emphasizing that students should work to reclaim Stuyvesant’s formerly sterling reputation.
“We all want to prove that Stuy is one of the top schools in the city,” said Rachel Makombo, a freshman. “We don’t want to be looked at as a cheating school.”Continue reading the main story
If you thought cheating was the easy, quick way to better grades, turns out you’re wrong. A new study indicates that students who cheat on homework actually learn less and are more likely to fail exams—and the overall course.
Physical Review Special Topics- Physics Education Research, a free online journal, recently published the results of a test four individual staff members from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) department of physics, conducted on students who copy homework.
The 11-page document detailed the way in which students were tested using a web-based tutorial homework system called MasteringPhysics.com. The system was used for the four largest introductory calculus-based classes in the physics department at MIT. The calculus-based intro classes are a requirement for all MIT undergrads. MasteringPhysics.com was an online homework assignment that not only tracked student’s answers but how fast they answered.
According to the document multiple problems were blocked out to students using the online system until the previous question was answered. Copying was detected by measuring how fast average students, or “real time solvers,” answered the questions compared to “quick solvers.” The “quick solvers” answered the question in less than one minute, which is insufficient time to read the problem and enter the answers, it was then inferred that these students were not intellectually engaging in the question and consequently copying their answers.
The results of the test are as follows, according to the document there is considerable research that shows that doing homework leads to greater learning. The document states that “the correlation between copying online homework and declining academic performance, relative to those who do not copy is extraordinary strong.” Finally, the most striking correlate with repeated homework copying (students that copied more than 30% of their answers) is severely declining performance relative to class average.
Conclusion: Copying Does Not Pay Off
The document concludes that online homework copying is very likely a significant fraction in overall course failure. So listen up students, not only can online homework copying be detected but it can actually lead to the eventual failure of the course. To avoid this pitfall get started on homework before its due date, give yourself ample time to complete the assignment honestly by putting in the work instead of resorting to other means. Doing the work now will pay off in the end when it comes to your final grade.
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