Cheating on physics exam leads to retest, tensions, and testing procedure concerns

Cheating+on+physics+exam+leads+to+retest%2C+tensions%2C+and+testing+procedure+concerns
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By Samantha Alzate and Julianna Zitron, Managing Editor and News Editor

On Thursday, March 28, students in bands three through nine of regents physics took a unit exam. The integrity of the exam, which was proctored by a THHS substitute teacher while all physics teachers were on a robotics trip, was “compromised” after students shared photos of the exam throughout the school day. Teachers and administrators decided that invalidating the test and presenting students with a new version on April 2 and April 3 would be a true measure of their students’ learning.

In an email sent to students and their families on Saturday, March 30, Assistant Principal of Math, Science, and Technology Susan Brustein and physics teachers Joshua Raghunath, David Stern, and John Tsai, stated, “The integrity of our most recent Physics exam…was compromised and cannot be counted as a reliable measure of student learning. In order to fairly assess each student…we must invalidate the most recent exam and administer a new exam that assesses the same material.”

Principal Brian Condon expressed disappointment in the situation, stating, “There are a couple things that are really important in school and one is that you are honest academically. …How is cheating leaving your city better than you found it? It’s not.”

He felt a retest was the only option. “It is not an ideal situation,” he stated. “Whenever you make a decision like this, you are going to have people that are not happy, but trying to do what I think is right for kids is what motivated my decisions.”

Some students who claim that they did not cheat expressed dismay about teachers giving the test despite them not being present to oversee it.

Principal Brian Condon agreed with this sentiment, stating, “Giving a test when the teachers were not there: I think it’s a bad practice… I have no idea why someone would make that decision… I am not sure why that exam had to be given on that day. Why would you do that? I’m not happy with that decision, and I’ve spoken with Ms. Brustein and told her that that’s not acceptable. Moving forward, that…can’t happen.”

With the new testing schedule, teachers are limited in the days they can administer exams. Ms. Brustein explained the rationale behind giving the initial test “was so that an instruction day was not lost.” She continued, “It is something I have done as well, and did do that day, because I didn’t want to waste the class period.”

The new exam, which was originally scheduled for a C week, was administered on an A week. Principal Condon justified the divergence from the testing schedule stating, “Knowing that students have to wait another three weeks before taking the exam would mean that we have double the amount of material to cover three weeks from now. I thought [this] was a problem.”

Following the events of last week, Ms. Brustein concluded, “Obviously we will not do that in the future and we’ll have to find another way to make the class period valuable.”

Many students directed their anger to the students who cheated and who reported the cheating. Ms. Brustein, as well as Ms. York, addressed these tensions amid concerns over bullying in classes prior to the exam on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Ms. Brustein said, “as a school and as a community neither academic dishonesty nor bullying is something we tolerate.”

Junior Nicole Rozmus stated, “Teachers should have enough trust to allow [their students] to take tests in class. Teachers build a relationship with these students, so they can trust one another. However, with these recent events, I can understand why teachers are not going to simply give tests while they are gone.”

On Monday, many students felt upset by how their teachers handled the compromised exam and the topic of cheating, in general. Two physics teachers communicated that the retest was going to be more challenging than the compromised exam and expressed this to their students, with one doing so in writing.

According to multiple sources, after Ms. Brustein visited a class to express her disappointment, one teacher suggested that students should instead learn to be better at cheating and made it clear that the retest would be harder.

“Teachers may have said that [the test would be harder] in anger but the point of the [retest] was not to be punitive. That was probably frustration, that was probably breach of trust. But really an effort was made to make it equivalent,” Ms. Brustein said when asked if she had any knowledge of the new exam being referred to as more difficult.

Ms. Brustein said that grades on the retest were in line with previous tests: “averages are in essentially the same place as every other previous test.”

However, one teacher told classes that they had cheated on the easiest test of the year, leading students to believe that while the new test may have been in line with other physics exams, the original test was less challenging. Some students viewed the new test as a punishment given to all classes for what the cheaters did. Before the test, one student felt they needed to work harder to prepare for the new test: “I dont think it’s fair that everyone has to retake it after I studied so hard. And they are making it harder, which means that I have to study even more.”

After taking the retest, a student claimed the exam to be “harder than the first one that I took…everyone that I talked to said that they failed it.”

The exam showcased five options for the multiple choice section, rather than the typical four answer choices, which was a shock for students. Students have expressed their frustration with this, saying that it was more stressful since they have never been given a test like that at any point of the school year. One student shared, “Not even the regents is like that.”

Another student mentioned, “Juniors also had to take the SAT in school [last Wednesday]. Even though I took the SAT for three hours, I had to come home and study for physics as well. I studied so hard for this test, only to have to retake it and study more.” Another student added, “I went home after the SAT to study for this exam and now it doesn’t even matter.”  

Discontent in the student body was evident, especially because some students also had to take the physics test on Friday, despite word of the cheating spreading on Thursday afternoon. Before the end of ninth band, students in THHS received text messages from students on the robotics trip informing them that the physics teachers were aware of the incident.

However, “I found out at approximately 1:30 [on Friday],” Ms. Brustein said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have given the exam.”

With the email shared on Saturday, most students were interested to see how this situation was going to play out in the classroom. Various sources have addressed that a physics teacher reacted by asking students to write their name on the blackboard when coming late to class and issuing demerits, a policy not enforced in their class until after the cheating became known.

One source concluded, “He said that he has to treat us like children now because he can’t even give us a test when he is not here.

Additional reporting by Danielle Amster and Min Hyeok Shin

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