Thoughts on cheating

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For writing purposes, I spent a few hours reading or trying to read about students and cheating yesterday. I looked up articles and research. As with drop-out rates, the numbers are fuzzy. No one knows what percentage of students are cheating. If you include copying other student’s papers, that number may run as high as 97%. Different studies indicate that from 80% to 97% of high-school students admit to some type of cheating. Many students no longer regard copying as cheating. That’s “helping” in student terms.

At the end, I felt a profound sense of disquiet. These numbers are impossible to nail down, and not because of the many sources available. Relatively few sources are available, given the importance of the topic. Reading between the lines, teachers and other educators seem to have tossed up their hands.

Where is the indignation? Where are the attempts to define the concept “cheating” and to then quantify that topic? Those efforts exist, but systematic work designed to attack the problem appears to be almost absent.  In the meantime, we are left with small studies and anecdotal evidence, much of it more than a decade old. Those old numbers are still floating around the internet, I suspect, because not enough new numbers have been created to replace them.

To quote an ABC news article at

“Authoritative numbers are hard to come by, but according to a 2002 confidential survey of 12,000 high school students, 74 percent admitted cheating on an examination at least once in the past year.”

That’s exam cheating. That’s 2002. What is happening on a daily basis? The situation cannot be improving. For one thing, about the only penalty left for cheating is a failing grade and teachers usually just stick a zero into the gradebook for that one instance of cheating, leaving public school students likely to pass at semester’s end, despite having been caught cheating.

I also think the demand for daily group work in some classrooms may be aiding and abetting cheating, as students learn to “work together” on papers. Too often, “work together” means that Maisie writes the paper and other group members write a version of Maisie’s paper. Sometimes those other students hardly bother to change the verbiage. I don’t know if Maisie thinks she is “helping” them. More probably, like my daughters in high school, she thinks, “Well, somebody’s got to write this paper. I need the grade. I guess I’m stuck again.”

Another quote from the ABC news article:

“There’s other people getting better grades than me and they’re cheating. Why am I not going to cheat? It’s kind of almost stupid if you don’t,” said Joe.

One interesting note that struck me during my internet wanderings: Joe may not be at the bottom of his class. He may be at the top. In this time when competition to get into the best colleges has become absolutely cutthroat, students at the top are justifying cheating as necessary to their long-term life success. That’s quite a moral whammy to work into the fabric of our society.

For readers who are interested, I’ll offer a few websites you might read in your spare time.

(The phrase “teachers’ spare time” during the late fall can only be considered an oxymoron, but maybe some readers want to explore this topic further. For one thing, I’d bet many newbies are beginning to sense how large this problem has become in the average classroom.)