The uniquely competitive and high-pressure environment of Stuyvesant makes cheating a widespread and complicated issue. There is no doubt that the prevalence of academic dishonesty at Stuyvesant is borne of many factors. In fact, The Spectator published a staff editorial entitled “Why We Cheat” in 2010, which speculated that cheating and collaborating on homework is a sort of collective resistance to excessive and mundane workloads. The article tapped into the perceptions of academic dishonesty at Stuyvesant. In order to analyze this topic more fully, The Spectator distributed a survey in which nearly 2000 students anonymously filled out 13 questions regarding the frequency of their cheating habits. The results help us to flesh out the nature of academic dishonesty at our school.
The survey questions that gathered the greatest evidence of academic dishonesty from students of all grades dealt with copying homework, using outside sources for homework, and discussing answers on upcoming tests with students from earlier periods. For each grade, more than 72 percent of students had copied homework at least once, with more than 28 percent copying at least weekly. In fact, more than half of the students who took the survey (over a third of the entire school population) admitted to copying homework as frequently as once a month or more. The number of students who have used outside sources on homework was similarly high, and 79 percent of all students, and about 90 percent of seniors, admitted to learning about questions before tests at least once a year.
The strikingly high percentages in these areas raise important questions regarding what Stuyvesant students consider cheating. The sizable gap between the 56 percent of students who copy homework at least once a month and the 20 percent who copy answers on at least some tests confirms that there is an important moral distinction being made by students regarding different forms of academic dishonesty. Many students may not consider the techniques discussed above to be cheating—to them, copying homework or asking the class before them what was on the test is a casual habit without any moral repercussions. This data helps to substantiate the claim made by the 2010 staff editorial: for the most part, students will do their own work on evaluative tests (in-class ones, at least), but when it comes to the massively assigned, sparsely checked and intellectually undemanding “busy work,” they are more than willing to reach out for help.
The students are the culprits, but they are not the only ones to blame for such trends. The survey showed that about 80% of Stuyvesant students have cheated in some way. However, only 10 percent of respondents reported that they had ever been caught. While a student’s decision to cheat is largely based on his or her own moral conscience, an environment in which a teacher does not acknowledge or reprimand cheating can help fan the flames of this issue. And even if the phenomenon is acknowledged, students tend to band together and help one another cheat. We make it easy for one another by posting work on facebook groups, texting the answers, and offering to do projects for each other. Even when a student is caught, the punishment is rarely harsher than a failing grade on the assignment. It is evident that risk often outweighs the grade-boosting reward.
Some teachers are more pro-active regarding academic dishonesty than others. Biology teacher Dr. Maria Nedwidek has been in several situations where she has caught students cheating, some using a “good old-fashioned crib sheet,” or even stealing an exam and distributing it to the class, she said. She has stricter policies towards cheating than many other teachers and said her punishments involve “a mixture of grade penalties and humiliation. But mainly penance, understanding that they did it wrong and that they shouldn’t do it again. That’s the key thing.” Otherwise, students “start not to have a soul when they do this. They take leave of their senses when they do something like this.” She also added, “If a student desperately wants to cheat, there is not a lot I can do to stop it.”
The main thing Dr. Nedwidek does to prevent cheating is to proctor students actively by remaining attentive to them as they take the test. She also says that a teacher should notice the trends a student establishes in class in order to recognize cheating. According to Dr. Nedwidek, different type of students cheat for different reasons, saying that “students who average in the 60s are likely to cheat to pass, while students who average in the 80s cheat to put themselves into the 90s.” An incongruous or outlying grade is also a reason for suspicion. Teachers should be more aware of these trends and anomalous grades in order to know where to look for cheaters.
In terms of overall solutions, Dr. Nedwidek suggests that the school explicitly outline the potential consequences of academic dishonesty to all students at the start of every school year. Apparently, each time she has caught someone cheating, the punishment has varied, but she thinks that a rigid system would make it easier for teachers to deal with cheaters. Concrete policies would also be more effective to deter students from cheating. If students don’t realize the potential danger they’re putting themselves in, they will continue to cheat—perhaps even in college where the stakes should be even higher.
As the trends show, fewer students will cheat on more policed exams, since the risk of being caught begins to outweigh the possible benefits. Even so, a few students still cheat on their SATs or AP exams. The charts show that five percent of the school takes this risk. It is not just Stuyvesant students who do this either. The recent scandal in Long Island, in which students paid college kids to take the SATs for them, demonstrates how desperate people can be to achieve Ivy League-worthy scores without putting in the needed work.
The subject that tended to be cheated in the most was foreign languages, with social studies and biology coming in a close second and third. Though there were relatively high results in many of the subject categories, it makes sense that these subjects would be toward the top – all three are very memorization-oriented, as opposed to classes such as Math and technology, which are more hands-on. The majority of the tests in these subjects consist of multiple choice questions or questions with fill-in answers, making it easier to just glance over and copy from a neighbor. In addition, the classes that a student cheats in depend on how he or she prioritizes them. One freshman said in an email interview, “I’ve cheated in one class and I did it because I felt that this class wasn’t important. I wanted to devote my time to studying for more important classes. I don’t really regret it that much.”
It is also true that more students have taken these classes, so more people have had the opportunity to cheat in them. Most freshmen choose to take biology, and everyone is programmed to take a social studies and foreign language class in their freshmen year. Thus, these are the classes that most kids in the school have taken for longer durations, and a larger sample size produces a greater number of cheaters.
While it is undeniably a student’s responsibility to choose between moral rights and wrongs, a teacher who warns against the negative repercussions of cheating can make a huge difference in encouraging a student to reconsider his or her actions. When a cheater is caught, “the school protocol tells teachers to go to their department AP and to file an official digital report, with a harsh warning for the student. This report stays in the record and we have a three-strike system. If they get three strikes, from any of the departments, they are suspended and it goes on their permanent record,” Assistant Principal Social Studies Jennifer Suri said. However, whether or not an incident is reported is completely up to the teacher. If the school actively made such policies known and implemented harsher punishments, students would be less eager to cheat. “I feel, above all, disappointed in the student. That they chose to cheat rather than seek my help,” Suri said.
After learning that foreign languages is the most frequently cheated-in subject, Assistant Principal Foreign Languages Arlene Ubieta said, “We will discuss [the issue] again at the next department meeting but we can’t control what goes on outside the classroom. We’re fully aware that students exchange answers during different periods and we will continue to combat it.” On the motives behind cheating Ubieta said, “Each child has an individual case. There are so many variables, we can’t blame anyone.”
Much of the responsibility to prevent cheating is left to the individual teacher. If a teacher decides not trouble himself with the issue, there is little that can be done. Junior Ashley Ramsawak said in an email interview, “Some teachers either don’t see or choose not to see students cheating. Overall, schools do not allow cheating among students, but I think that some teachers cheat by giving students higher grades than they deserve.” The sad truth is that many of the students who are willing to cheat end up getting away with it. Since it goes unnoticed, they feel as if it’s okay to keep doing it – it’s a cycle of academic dishonesty that merely reinforces our idea that cheating isn’t that big a deal.
A comparison between the percentage of boys and girls who cheat on tests, projects, and homework shows that boys generally cheat more than girls. With the exception that girls are approximately three percent more likely than boys to know about questions on a test before they take it and two percent more likely to use outside databases for homework assistance, boys cheat more often than girls do. In fact, nearly 10 percent more boys claimed to have copied another person’s answers during a test, and over seven percent more boys have cheated on Stuyvesant finals.
Freshman Tali Herzfield said, “I don’t think gender has anything to do with [cheating].” However, she adds that, “I hear more about boys cheating, so girls are probably more discreet about it.”
Junior Isaac Fiore agrees, and believes that gender-wise, “[Cheating is] split pretty equally.”
When it comes to analyzing our data according to grade, we had interesting (and not necessarily intuitive) results. In terms of homework, juniors were the most likely to copy it weekly (at a little over 24 percent), with 14 percent of the other junior respondents copying multiple times a week. These numbers are high, but explainable—junior year, traditionally, has the heaviest workload, so it’s easy to understand why the temptation to simply get last night’s homework from a friend can prove overwhelming for some. When it came to learning about test questions before the actual test, freshmen racked up the highest percentages on both sides of the spectrum: 19 percent for “many tests,” but 41 percent for “very few tests.” As for the many of the other categories, the seniors consistently churned out the most cheaters. Their grade had the most respondents who admitted to copying others’ answers for some tests and a few tests (22 percent and 36 respectively). At the same time, many juniors admitted to doing this for almost every test. Here, a trend emerges: while seniors tend to cheat in greater numbers, there are small groups of dedicated cheaters who complete many of their assignments dishonestly in the other three grades. However, overall we can conclude that as the years pass, more and more students begin to cheat.
There is no first-period integrity class at Stuyvesant. AP Moral Problem Solving never shows up on a student’s schedule. The importance of putting what is right before what is personally gratifying is never drilled into a student’s head like the quadratic formula is. Still, the school does have an obligation to establish a basic moral compass for its students. Students are expected to know which ethical values they need to establish for themselves as they trek through life. The lack of importance placed on these values, however, along with the other considerable pressures of Stuyvesant, is among the more prominent factors that permeate this issue. To curb the problem, teachers can crack down on cheating and in some cases attempt to explain academic dishonesty, but in the end they are fighting an uphill battle, without the students themselves truly understanding these concepts.
It’s easy to justify cheating by blaming Stuyvesant’s competitive environment and lax policy enforcement, but ultimately it is always the student’s fault. We can call for harsher rules and more understanding, but the core of this issue is that we need to stop cheating. It’s a morality thing – cheating takes away from those who honestly work hard, and devalues actual talent while rewarding those who are simply the fastest at copying. We need to understand that the change won’t start with teachers or the administration – the change starts with us. Stuyvesant is supposed to be a place for people who truly care about academics and are willing to work hard, so why is it so difficult for us to do just that?
The Spectator received answers from 2,045 students on the recent survey about academic dishonesty that was distributed in English classes. While the data gives us a perception of how often and in which subjects students cheat in school, it does not come without discrepancies. The data does not represent the entire Stuyvesant community, since a little under a third of the student body did not reply, and data for sophomore boys for questions eight to 11 were not included due to discrepancies in the data. In addition, while we hope that all the surveys were answered honestly, it is likely that not everyone was truthful. Answering a survey on cheating while teachers and classmates peer at what boxes are checked can cause some students to quickly erase the truthful answer to replace it with a less incriminating one.
Some respondents may have misunderstood what the survey was asking, such as freshmen who claimed to have cheated in health, a class that is not scheduled for a student until his or her sophomore year. This could possibly be caused by students who answered the survey with middle school in mind, though the survey was meant to show statistics for cheating in Stuyvesant, exclusively. Lastly, there may be a few counting errors that must be considered while analyzing all the data.