I covered the high school Regents scandal at Stuyvesant High School, and we were all supposed to be shocked – shocked — that there was cheating going on in such an institution!
But none of this seemed to surprise the many high school students I spoke to at Stuyvesant and elsewhere.
This week 71 kids at the elite Lower Manhattan school were told they would have to retake the Regents exam.
The real surprise to me is that kids from Stuyvesant would feel the need to cheat on the exam, traditionally the test that top students say is a breeze. But students told me that the results of one Regents test, physics, are looked at carefully.
“The pressure to do well is unimaginable,” one kid told me. “Kids do stupid things because they simply cannot fail.”
Six students will apparently be facing a suspension. Depending on which story you believe, one junior apparently got the answers, then mass-texted them to a group. It was a high-tech scam, but incredibly easy to pull off in the age of cell phones.
Some students from other schools told me cheating in the age of the Internet is not exactly uncommon.
“Some kids will post the answers to a test on Facebook, so the next class is all set,” one told me.
Phones are banned from schools, but good luck enforcing that. I asked School’s Chancellor Dennis Walcott if there has ever been a thought to using metal detectors to keep out cell phones. He insisted that the system of using proctors and monitors has worked well, and this was an isolated incident.
Indeed, the state will even send monitors to check up on the monitors. At Packer Collegiate in Downtown Brooklyn, nearly 200 students had to retake their SAT college entrance exams, not because of cheating, but due to a variety of offenses by the people giving the test. The state found some student IDs were not checked, monitors were not vigilant, and, believe it or not, there was not spacing of four feet or more between desks.
Four feet? Kids with cell phones can be texting answers to people four miles away!
We should note that out of 71 kids at Stuyvesant, one student was old-school, caught passing a note during the test.
A group of kids once outlined to me what they considered to be a foolproof but rather limited cheating plan: the smart guy would simply use hand signals during the test. First, he would put up the number of the question, by putting a show of fingers against his cheek (1 finger = question 1). The second display would be the answer (1 finger = A, etc.)
Obviously there are limits to this scam. For one, with just 10 fingers available, any test with 11 questions or more poses a challenge. Also, confusion might set in after fingers start flying (was that the answer to question four, or the bunt sign?). So did the scam work? My buddies never discussed it again. I assume it was a failure, since they never bragged about it.
But at least there was no smoking gun, nothing on paper or in a text to essentially seal their fate.
Note to cheating high-school kids: cell phones leave a trail. And getting caught leaves a mark. That won’t help getting into your favorite college.
“They were pretty dumb doing that,” one kid told me. “On the other hand, that’s why they cheated in the first place.”