Cheating in high school and college classes is at epidemic levels across America. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Research found that published research reports conclude “...student cheating on U.S. campuses is both rampant and on the rise.”
The rate of cheating on college campuses varies from a low of 41% to a high of 64%. But this is lower than the level of cheating in high schools; that varies from 53% to 83%.
One reason cheating is on the rise is technology. Students reported in 1997 “I just took my walkman to class and listened to the answers during the test.” In 2007, they use an MP3 player. According to a Teacher Magazine report, students not only use cell phones to text-message answers to each other, but also take photos of the test and send it to friends, or photograph notes before the test. The more a school moves to PDAs, other paperless media, or online, the easier it is for tech-savvy students to cheat.
Conventional cheating has not been abandoned. About 80% of cheating consists of looking at a neighbor’s paper or using cheat sheets. Pens are now available to write notes and formulas that are invisible until the pen’s U-V light reveals the writing during the test. Some students conspire to assign letters to the colors of M&M candy, and then the student who knows the answer aligns the candy in the order of the answers for surrounding students to copy. A student can fill in two scantron answer sheets and pass the extra to a friend. And Teacher Magazine describes the practice of writing answers on the back of a water bottle label and reattaching it to the bottle, so it can be read through the water but goes unnoticed by a teacher.
There is little doubt that the new “climate” of online copying makes plagiarism easier. Just as some students do not see anything wrong with stealing music off the internet, many no longer see anything wrong with handing in work they lifted completely and unchanged from the internet and claiming it as their own.
Cheating has become common because it is not being caught. Students report that cheating is rampant around them. And it continues because it is successful. A teacher who fails to stop cheating sends the message that it is not only tolerated, but is an important way to get ahead in both academics and life. Students who worked hard to earn genuine good scores are de-valued by those with counterfeit scores. I spend considerable classtime teaching my student teachers that giving a test is work. Testing requires constant observation and an awareness of the range of possible techniques. Testing means no walkman or MP3 headsets. No water bottles. And the willingness to follow through immediately when cheating occurs. That is uncomfortable. Cheating levels are above half not because teachers are so clueless that cheating goes undetected, but because too many of us are unwilling to confront the cheating.
Finally, in some states, public school teachers have come under so much pressure to raise student test scores that they are actively helping students cheat. A study in the Chronicle of Higher Education found compromised test results in at least 123 public schools in California in 2007. Because it was a high stakes achievement test, teachers felt pressured to help students answer the questions or even change the answers afterward. In a two-year period in California, re-examination of tests “...found suspicious erasures in 459 classrooms at 162 schools.” In a study of seven years of Chicago’s high-stakes tests, it was estimated that from three to six percent of teachers were tampering with student tests!
Kansas is not California or Chicago. We have avoided the terrible mistake of requiring high stakes tests for a high school diploma. But we are under the heel of No Child Left Behind, and its insane requirement of adequate yearly progress (AYP) until all children are proficient by 2014.
At home, Kansas parents work hard to instill honesty in their children. They send their children to school expecting that we, as teachers, will continue to teach honesty. And that means confronting cheating. Cheating in Kansas is not as high as in California or Chicago, but it is still way too high.
At all levels of schooling, we have to do a better job.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.