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Cheating in Schools

Summary:
High school teachers and administrators are united in their resolve to reduce the amount of cheating in classrooms. This presentation describes the (1) prevalence of student deception in test taking and homework; (2) motivation for cheating as perceived by adults and teenagers; (3) new forms of misconduct involving use of technology tools; 4) national initiatives to protect test security, detect fraud, and hold students as well as teachers responsible for dishonesty; (5) websites students rely on to borrow or buy papers without crediting original sources; (6) procedures teachers can apply to detect plagiarism; (7) guidelines that minimize cheating on projects; (8) emergence of cyber laws defining offenses and penalties that, in the future, may be judged by courts instead of schools, and (9) necessity to recruit parents to help restore academic integrity and support ethical development of adolescents.
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Many parents believe that growing up now presents adolescents with more complicated challenges than were encountered by previous generations (Sciafani, 2004). Teenagers need to develop certain attributes so they are able to cope with some predictable difficulties they can expect to face (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). A nationwide sample of 1,600 parents with students in elementary and secondary school was surveyed regarding the relative importance of teaching eleven values that relate to character development (Farkas, Johnson, Duffett, Wilson & Vine, 2002). The value ranked highest, chosen by 91% of the parents as being absolutely essential for them to teach their children, was "to be honest and truthful." One method of evaluating the performance of parents, in their own estimate, is to compare the percentage identifying a goal as essential with the percentage stating they have succeeded in teaching that particular attribute to their children. In this survey, a large gap of 36 percentage points separated the 91% of parents declaring honesty and truthfulness are fundamental lessons and the 55% reporting their instruction had been successful. This type of analysis shows that, even for aspects of role performance that parents consider indispensable, significant gaps can exist between their educational intentions and what they have been able to accomplish.

 

Prevalence of Dishonesty


Teachers and students are also appropriate sources to assess whether family lessons about honesty and truthfulness have been learned. A survey of 356 high school teachers found that over 90% of them saw cheating as a common problem at their school and 50% speculate that students cheat in most courses (Bushweller, 1999a). The accuracy of these estimates is corroborated by a national survey of 20,000 secondary students responding to a poll in which 70% admitted cheating on assignments and examinations (Whitley & Spiegel, 2002).

Some people may assume that the students who cheat are characterized by marginal abilities that cause them to depend on dishonesty as the only way to keep up with more intelligent classmates. On the contrary, when 3,000 students selected to appear in the prestigious Who's Who Among American High School Students were asked to describe their experiences, 80% acknowledged cheating on teacher-made and state tests (Lathrop & Foss. 2000). The high level of participation in deceptive behavior by this group of academic achievers reflects a 10% increase since the question was first presented to honor students twenty years ago. Among the adolescent leaders who admitted cheating in school, 95% also stated that they were never caught and considered themselves to be morally responsible.

Cheating is not confined to the students attending middle school or high school. Considerable evidence suggests that deceptive practices are ubiquitous in colleges and universities (Cizek, 2003; Johnson, 2004; McCabe & Pavela, 2000). The Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University represents over 250 colleges that are collaborating to restore ethical behavior to the academic environment. Scholars participating in this consortium are developing principles for defining the levels of integrity that should be expected of students and formulating effective strategies for helping faculty encourage students to adopt honesty and ethical behavior as a lifestyle. The Center for Academic Integrity website is http://www.academicintegrity.org



Motivation for Cheating


Why do students from all age groups and levels of achievement participate in cheating? One line of speculation is that dishonesty in school is just a reflection of a much broader erosion of ethical behavior that has become commonplace in a society that tends to support self-centeredness over concern for others (Sommers & Satel, 2005). Another observation is that the concern over high stakes testing by states is a primary reason for resorting to deception, particularly by students who have difficulty in meeting the minimal competency skills required for high school graduation (Callahan, 2004). Other observers contend that teachers appear to be partially responsible for blame because they ignore evidence of character failure and do not hold their students accountable (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). There is general agreement among educators that an increasing number of parents seem obsessed with having their children perform better than classmates, regardless of the steps taken to attain desired results (Baker & LeTendre, 2005; Nichols & Good, 2004).

There is a way to obtain a more accurate appraisal of how students feel than reliance on adults to interpret the adolescent experience. Polling, more than any other educational reform, could show students that society is interested in their points of view and wants to consider them. Since computers are in every school and electronic polling is an option, educators should make an effort to become more aware of how students perceive life in the classroom. In order to increase awareness, the authors have designed a set of polls for adolescents. All of these polls, administered on the Internet, focus on the student perceived conditions of learning and instruction. The multiple-choice format augmented by self-defined responses, demographics for data analysis, and explanation of how outcomes can be used to improve school environments are presented elsewhere (Strom & Strom, 2005).

One of the polls emphasizes cheating at school and includes items regarding observed prevalence in classes, reactions to deception by classmates, punishment for test abuse and plagiarism, teacher usage of software for detection, observation of cheating adults, parent response to dishonesty of a daughter or son, identifying situations that constitute cheating, conditions that legitimize dishonest behavior, characteristics of cheaters, frequency of involvement with cheating, and reasons that motivate misconduct. This sample item reflects motivation and justification.
The main reasons that peers in my classes cheat are:

a. high test scores and good grades are necessary to get into college
b. desire to please the parents who expect high levels of achievement
c. others cheat which forces me to do so or risk getting poor grades
d. standards that are required to pass some courses are too difficult
e. other

Most adolescents agree that the identified options reflect prominent reasons to cheat. For the write-in, option e, students often mention "lack of access to free competent tutoring," and that "adults teach this kind of behavior by example."

Every school district should have policies and procedures about cheating so faculty can respond to incidents they observe or are reported to them without fear of being subject to duress. Whereas 80% of students responding to the Who's Who Among American High School Students survey admitted they had cheated on tests, a separate survey administered to their parents found 63% felt certain that their child would not cheat in any circumstance (Lathrop & Foss, 2000). Perhaps such parents believe that teaching distinctions between behavior that is right and wrong is enough without also helping adolescents link this understanding with a sense of responsibility to behave in honest and truthful ways at school. A familiar outcome is that educators feel vulnerable to threats of lawsuits by parents when their child is accused of cheating. Many teachers worry that they may wrongfully accuse a student of cheating and have to suffer dreadful consequences that could follow. Indeed, 70% of educators agree that their concern about parent reaction discourages them from identifying and punishing cheaters. A disappointing and unintended outcome is student awareness that misconduct seldom leads to any punishment and therefore poses a low risk for them (Whitley & Spiegel, 2002).



Technology and Test Monitoring


Teachers are advised to be vigilant when administering tests. A perennial form of student deception involves referral to messages that are written on parts of the body, clothing or belongings kept nearby. A common practice has been to remind test takers not to glance at the papers of others during a test. Emergence of technological devices has spawned new and more sophisticated approaches to dishonest conduct. Students with personal digital assistants or cell phones can "beam" or call data silently from across a classroom or, with a cell phone, from anywhere off campus. During a test such tools are frequently hidden under the table or in baggy pockets. Both devices could be equipped with text messaging, instant messaging, email, and a camera or a video recorder which makes capture or transmission of answers a relatively easy task. Cell phones could have a hands-free function that allows the user to listen to sound files (i.e prerecorded class notes). Applying the same method of sound files, others make use of music playing devices such as iPods. The listening piece connected to a cell phone or a music-playing device could be concealed beneath long hair of a student, covering their ears from the teacher's view (Cizek, 2003)

Some teachers appropriately permit the use of personal data assistants and graphing calculators during tests because these tools provide helpful functions for solving problems. However, educators must be aware that, when a device displays data on the screen (liquid crystal display), it might also have a minimized screen containing cheat data that can be accessed for a few seconds and then entirely hidden (minimized) from a teacher's view with just the press of a key. In a similar manner, screen protectors include decorative patterned holograms intended to allow only the user to see the screen and prevent viewing by onlookers from other angles. If a teacher permits calculators or PDAs, certain ground rules should be understood. Technology contributes to learning and assessment but devices must be applied in a responsible and ethical way. Barbara Davis from the University of California in Berkeley offers helpful tips on prevention of cheating, scoring and returning test results, handling fraudulent excuses to postpone an examination, turning in a late assignment or missing a class, and clarifying expectations for coursework performance at http://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/prevent.html

When there are multiple sections of a course, tests are usually scheduled on different days and times. This practice allows students to buy questions from someone who has already completed their examination. In such cases, buyer and seller are both engaged in cheating. A more daring risk involves paying a person to take a test for someone else (Johnson, 2003). The identity of all students in an examination should be verified and the test for all sections of a course should be scheduled on the same day and at the same time. In addition, teachers should modify course tests of their own making each semester in order to lessen impact and likelihood of cheating by students able to access the previous answer keys. Administration of multiple versions of a test helps because items appearing in different sequence prove frustrating to anyone who tries to borrow answers by peering over the shoulder of another individual thought to know the material better than themselves. Changing the seating location of students is beneficial during testing because students are less likely to copy from classmates whose record of achievement is unknown. When a teacher leaves the room or permits students to do so during an examination, the chances for cheating are increased. No student should be out of a teacher's sight while taking a test (Johnson, 2003).

Giving periodic open book examinations and allowing students to bring notes can increase their familiarity with the content, of a course, improve their review process, and reduce the incidence of cheating. While some considerations that have been described may seem to be unduly cautious, collectively these steps do much to prevent dishonesty and support the integrity of a test environment. Students take academic honesty more seriously when they see that their teacher makes an effort to ensure fair and honest conditions for assessment. Fremer and Mulkey (2005), experts within the emerging field of test fraud and piracy, have portrayed the "ten most wanted test cheaters" and describe how their actions often compromise the value of judgments based on the outcomes of testing. See http://www.caveon.com (click articles).

While the forms of student cheating continue to become more complex, a related but unexpected threat has also become more common. During this era of high stakes testing, faculty and administrator salaries and careers are increasingly tied to the academic performance of students. Some teachers and principals have been fired for providing test answers to students, prompting change in responses of students while being tested, altering answers after the tests are completed and before they have been submitted to the school district official for processing, and providing students more time to complete examinations than is permitted by test directions (Axtman, 2005).

The extent to which some educators are willing to go to fabricate student achievement is illustrated by a case receiving great attention in Long Island, New York. A student taking the 2005 Regents' annual high stakes test was caught with blue writing on his hand that matched all of the correct responses. The source of answers was quickly traced to the student's father, an assistant principal who was responsible for the state examinations in a nearby school district (Lambert, 2005). Public outrage over this kind of illegal activity is prompting new initiatives as well as policies to protect the evaluation process. In Ohio teachers are obliged to sign a code of conduct and warned that inappropriate monitoring of examinations could lead to revocation of certification licensure. Kentucky administers six different versions of their state tests to frustrate the practice of teaching students answers that might be easier known by faculty where there is only a single version of the measure (Callahan, 2004).

Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas are among the growing number of states contracting with Caveon, the nation's first test security company that monitors annual assessments for the No Child Left Behind Act. This company has developed a process called Data Forensics that searches for unusual response patterns of students such as getting difficult questions correct while missing easy questions, abnormally high pass rates for one classroom or school, tests where incorrect answers have been erased and replaced with correct ones. The service includes protection of existing instruments from fraudulent practices, erecting barriers to prevent unauthorized access to copyright materials, and applying sophisticated statistical and web patrolling tools that track cheaters, and hold them accountable by providing evidence to school administrators (Foster, 2003).



Ethics and the Internet


In 2000 Congress passed the Children's Internet Protection Act requiring public schools and libraries to install filters that minimize student exposure to objectionable materials like pornography. Another feature of the same legislation includes guarantees to safeguard copyright materials of authors and artists whose music and ideas are made available on the Internet. A national rush to make sure that all age groups have an opportunity to be online has overlooked the essential training everyone should have to support ethical behavior on the Internet. There is a rapidly growing population of young computer pirates choosing to bootleg music and misrepresent themselves as authors of assignments and projects they submit to teachers without identifying original sources. Dishonesty is not unique to students but seems widespread among adults in the workplace too and presents similar challenges involving integrity, trust, and giving credit where credit is due (Evans & Wolf, 2005; Maciariello, 2005). One estimate is that the unauthorized copying and distribution of software alone costs businesses $12 billion a year (Schwartz, 2001).

There are websites like http://www.schoolsucks.com/ that warehouse term papers students are able to access without cost. These papers can be downloaded for presentation instead of having to write a document containing personal views based on reading and the inclusion of proper citations. There are also expensive sources students can turn to such as http://www.termpaper.com This site has a data bank of 20,000 on-file papers for purchase from $20 to $35. Another general site is http://academictermpapers.com that offers 30,000 research papers at $7 per page to a maximum of $120 and even more expensive pricing for preparation of new custom papers designed to fit the unique needs of a client.

When students lack training regarding the ethical commitment necessary for searching the Internet, they may suppose it is all right to present the words and views of someone else as if they represent their own thinking. Plagiarism on the Internet is a monumental problem educators in middle school, high school, and college are struggling to confront (Axtman, 2005; Bushweller, 1999b). Cyber law proposals that define offenses and penalties have begun to emerge as agenda that, in the future, could be determined in the courts rather than by teachers and school administrators. Ronald Standler (2000), a copyright attorney, has an informative web essay about plagiarism that illustrates the wide range of issues involved along with results of court cases at http://www.rbs2.com/plag.htm

Parents share responsibility for helping their daughters and sons realize that looking up a topic on the web is only the initial step in conducting research, similar to visiting the library. Copying materials from books, journals or sources on the Internet and portraying these products as one's own invention is dishonest and defined as cheating. Because of a growing access to the Internet, deceptive practices by students have been reported as moving downward to earlier grades. The Center for Academic Integrity surveyed middle schools throughout the country and found that 73% of seventh graders and 66% of the sixth graders admitted to regularly borrowing materials without giving credit to their sources (McCabe & Pavela, 2000). The practice of cut and paste plagiarism is widespread with students acting as though whatever they find on the Internet can be submitted as their own work.



Prevention of Plagiarism


Teachers want their students to practice search skills on the Internet but are finding it difficult to cope with the increasing level of plagiarism. To encourage originality in expression of ideas and prevent students from taking credit for the writing of other people, school districts are turning to a service that can quickly identify academic work that is plagiarized. This service detects whenever more than 8 words are used in a paper without identifying the original source and can serve as evidence to confront misbehaving students and parents. This prevention resource, already applied by public schools in many states and the authors of this presentation with their college students can be found at http://www.turnitin.com On a typical day, 30,000 papers are submitted to the service for checking. More than 30% of these documents include cheating. Bruce Leland (2002), a Professor from Western Illinois University, provides suggestions for teachers about how to deal with plagiarism and what to tell students regarding ethical expectations of them. See http://www.wiu.edu/users/mfbhl/wiu/plagiarism.htm

Adolescents are rarely asked to evaluate the merit of assignments their teachers give them. Another way to assess student reaction is from conversations in which they describe aspects of their school experience. For example, Jamal is a sophomore from Montgomery, Alabama. He believes that it is misleading to focus only on the inappropriate motives of students. Jamal suggests, "Maybe a bigger problem is that teachers require students to memorize instead of teaching them how to think. You can cheat if all you are going to be tested on are facts but it is much harder to cheat when you are asked to attack or to defend a particular position and actually write an essay."

Jamal's outlook may not reflect the consensus of classmates. Nevertheless, his view that teachers could minimize cheating by developing more challenging tasks, which are less vulnerable to cheating, is gaining support. Assignments that motivate students to learn by doing, encourage reciprocal learning in cooperative groups, support self-directedness, and foster original thinking are essential shifts in teaching that will allow students to become actively involved in construction of their own knowledge. Traditionally, teachers have devoted most of their effort to preparing for the direct instruction to be presented in class and spent little effort on developing assignments that permit students to learn on their own.

Individual and team projects are another problematic context for cheating. These suggestions can help teachers reduce the likelihood of dishonest behavior.

1. The purpose of every project should be clear, identify anticipated benefits, and invite dialogue regarding methods, resources, and the types of products that are acceptable for submission.
2. Relevance for the students should be established. The connection between curriculum and real life is confirmed when students can get credit for interaction with informants of other generations or cultures whose experience goes beyond the perspective that is offered by the teacher and text (Strom & Strom, 2002).
3. Encourage students to express their feelings and describe the processes they use to reach their conclusions. These presentations are more interesting to write and more satisfying to read (Johnson, 2004).
4. Emphasize higher order thinking and creative behavior. Instead of reporting only knowledge, student participation should involve practice with higher-level abilities identified in the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Krathwohl, 2002).
5. Go beyond the customary scope for problem solving. Students are frequently presented questions the teacher already knows answers for or could readily find. Yet, generating alternative solutions and then making choices is often the key to overcoming challenges in life (DeBono, 1999).
6. Encourage varied types of information gathering. Submissions might include a hard copy of located web data accompanied by the same information summarized and interpreted in a student's own words, results drawn from polls or interviews, and descriptions of steps in an experiment.
7. Identify the criteria that will be used for evaluating the quality of performance. When students know ahead of time criteria to be applied in judging their work, they can concentrate instead of being anxious and reporting at the end "I wasn't sure if this is what you wanted."
8. Allow students to reflect, revise, and improve their final product. Having access to suggestions from classmates who have read their work and being expected to revise a product supports perseverance and learning how to accept constructive criticism.
9. Consider the use of oral critique. This method allows students to make their views known verbally, permits classmates to practice offering helpful criticism, enables teachers to call for clarification when points are unclear, and eliminates the use of technology tools for deception.



Student Integrity and Maturity


Legalistic syllabi and tough policies alone are insufficient ways to rely on for prevention of cheating. Instructional efforts are needed as well. Students are able to understand that honesty is an important indicator of developing maturity. Indeed, maturity cannot materialize without a sense of obligation to treat other people fairly. Adolescents can benefit from periodic discussions about the need to maintain integrity across all sectors of life. They can also be informed of seldom considered damaging effects of cheating, those gaps in knowledge and skills that can adversely affect later success when the foundation of knowledge necessary to understand processes in higher level courses has not been acquired.

Academic dishonesty results in another long-term significant disadvantage. The moral compass students need to guide personal conduct in class and outside of school can be thrown off course. This message is effectively portrayed in "The Emperors Club" (2002), a film that features Kevin Cline. As teacher and assistant principal at St. Benedict's High School for Boys, he motivates students to choose a moral purpose for their lives in addition to selecting occupational goals. The story illustrates how great teachers can have a profound influence on students and how cheating during the teenage years can become a life-long habit. The interactive website for this film includes an interesting quiz on how to define morality at http://www.theemperorsclub.com/

Educators cannot provide all of the guidance that students require to adopt honesty as a lifestyle. Some parents tell daughters and sons that cheating is a fact of life in the world of work and this has forced them to cheat in order to succeed. When parents act in this way, condoning dishonesty and deception as normative and defensible, it becomes far more difficult for educators to counter the message that prevalence of cheating makes it an acceptable practice. Schools could provide workshops for parents that focus on the range of cheating issues adolescents face and offer agenda questions for discussions at home about honesty, integrity, trust and maturity. In this way, mothers and fathers would be enlisted to sustain their efforts to nurture these valuable attributes in their children. Successful academic performance rooted in honesty enables students to take pride in work that is their own and to make known when tutoring is needed to improve learning (McCabe & Pavela, 2000). Ultimately, the success of individual students depends on positive values they adopt and the level of maturity they are able to attain. These aspects of healthy development warrant greater attention in a society that aspires to provide world leadership.

 


References


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