The next day, Nayeem used the same scheme during his U.S. history Regents Exam—only this time it was his turn to get help from others. He sat in the first seat of the first row, just a few feet from the proctor, and received the answers. Next, on June 18, came the Spanish Regents. Spanish was Nayeem’s weakest subject; he needed a score high enough to lift his final grade in the class out of the cellar (Regents are often factored into class grades at Stuyvesant). This time his plan was to take pictures of the questions, text them to friends who were facile with the language but not taking the test, then wait for his phone to vibrate with fully written paragraphs of Spanish.
About halfway through that test, just after the proctor switch, the school’s principal, Stanley Teitel, accompanied by a handful of other administrators, entered the exam room. A science teacher by background who still taught chemistry at the time, Teitel is tall and thin with a thick Brooklyn accent. As principal, he was known as an intense presence, liked personally but given to policies the students often found too restrictive. Teitel walked past Nayeem, then doubled back and stared down at him, taking him by surprise.
“Do you have a phone?”
“Yeah,” Nayeem said.
“Give it to me.”
“Because,” Teitel said, “I’m the principal.”
Nayeem knew Teitel was aware he was cheating, although he wasn’t sure how Teitel found out. His best guess was that his answers on one of the earlier exams had been too similar to too many other students’ (he’d later learn that was true for the physics test). Nayeem’s phone not only had the recently incriminating texts and the names of those he’d been texting with on it, it still contained a record of every test he’d shared answers on since the start of the term. But there was no time to wipe the device clean. He had no choice now but to give it to Teitel.
Teitel escorted Nayeem to the front office, and instructed him to continue taking the test while Teitel and the others discussed how to proceed. Nayeem tried to calm himself with the thought that his phone was password-protected, but Teitel quickly got it open (Nayeem doesn’t know how). Moments later, Teitel and an assistant principal began scribbling down names as fast as they could. The school called Nayeem’s father, and when he got there, Teitel seemed almost as shaken as Nayeem was. “There’s no way he can go back to Stuy in the fall,” Teitel said. “If this hits the Post, the school is through.”
The Stuyvesant scandal may have been the most notorious act of cheating to take place at a high school in the United States, but it is by no means the only high-profile cheating scandal of recent vintage. In May, a few weeks before Nayeem walked into his first Regents Exam, Harvard University professor Matthew Platt was grading the final exams for his spring lecture class, Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress,” when he noticed that somewhere between ten and twenty exams seemed similar. The test was a take-home exam. It was also open-book and open-Internet, meaning that students were allowed to research their answers in any manner they saw fit, with one exception: The first page of the test featured specific instructions not to work with other students. Platt brought the case to Harvard’s Administrative Board, which investigated the incident over the summer. In August, the school went public with its findings. Some 125 students’ tests were found suspect; close to half of the class’s 259 students now found themselves under investigation. One Harvard dean called the matter “unprecedented in anyone’s living memory.” One of the first jokes that circulated was about how some of the students must have gone to Stuyvesant.
Around the country, there are other cases: In March, nine seniors just months from graduation from Leland High School, an acclaimed public school in San Jose, California, were accused of taking part in a cheating ring (one student was said to have broken in to at least two classrooms to steal test information before winter exams). In May, a high-achieving junior from Panther Creek High School in Cary, North Carolina, was caught distributing a test to four classmates. And last fall, some twenty students from Great Neck, Roslyn, and other Long Island Gold Coast towns were arrested in an SAT cheating ring; at least four of them were said to have hired themselves out to take the test for their friends.