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Cheating Prevalent at High-Pressure Stuyvesant High School, Students Say

Stuyvesant High School in Battery Park City.
Stuyvesant High School in Battery Park City.
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Flickr/Art Poskanzer

BATTERY PARK CITY — Stuyvesant High School is no stranger to cheating.

Long before authorities busted a nearly 100-student cheating ring last week, students have been raising concerns for years about widespread cheating at the elite Battery Park City school.

Stuyvesant's high-pressure environment, floods of busywork and lax enforcement during tests have combined to make it both easier and more tempting to cheat, students said.

"The pressure at Stuyvesant is uniquely [causing] people to be more prone to cheating," said Daniel Teehan, 16, a rising senior from Bay Ridge. "For some students, clearly it's too much. There's pressure from parents, pressure from teachers, pressure from other people succeeding."

Nayeem Ashan, a Stuyvesant junior, was caught last week allegedly texting photos of a Spanish Regents exam to other students. After confiscating Ashan's phone, administrators found answers and photos from three other exams and enough information to implicate more than 90 other students, according to reports.

While Ashan represents an extreme case, cheating is far from taboo at Stuyvesant, students said.

Earlier this year, Stuyvesant's student-run newspaper The Spectator surveyed more than 2,000 students — about two-thirds of the school — and found that more than 72 percent had copied another student's homework. About 90 percent of seniors had heard about test questions from other students before taking an exam, the survey found.

"The survey showed a widespread, fairly accurate portrayal of what's going on," said Adam Schorin, 17, a rising senior and The Spectator's co-editor-in-chief.

Smartphones, in particular, make it easy to Google a historic date or store an important formula — or to solicit help from others in the same class, students explained.

Part of the problem is that Stuyvesant does not have a uniform policy for addressing cheating, Schorin said. Some teachers fail a student caught cheating, while others give the student a zero on the assignment but allow the student to remain in the class and improve his or her grade, Schorin said.

"It was arbitrary and not very effective," Schorin said of the cheating policy. "If people feel the teacher is not paying attention, they get a little bolder."

In 2010, The Spectator ran an editorial entitled "Why We Cheat." The piece mentioned the school's high-stakes, competitive atmosphere but also blamed teachers for overwhelming students with mind-numbingly repetitive assignments rather than truly valuable, educational work.

"This is…an act of communal resistance — a non-verbal way of saying 'we’re all in this together,'" the editorial said. "Copying homework or sharing answers to a test, while undeniably wrong, become minor acts of rebellion against a course and school that has devalued learning and analytical thought."

Teehan, an opinion editor at The Spectator, said he believes fewer students would cheat if the school gave more creative assignments that focused on deep learning rather than the rote recital of facts.

The Spectator's survey found that students were more likely to cheat in foreign languages, social studies and biology — classes that require lots of memorization — than in math and physics, which require more abstract reasoning, Schorin said.

Stanley Teitel, Stuyvesant's principal, did not respond to a request for comment.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said the agency takes all cheating allegations seriously and is working on disciplining the students involved.