PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/THE MASH
By John Mederich, Mather
and Maria Castellucci, Plainfield North
Katie, a senior at Plainfield North who asked for her last name to be withheld, felt confident that she was prepared for her AP Statistics exam. But when she realized that she may have overestimated her readiness halfway through the test, she decided to look at someone else’s paper. She said she reasoned with herself that she had put in the work.
Although she said she regretted doing it soon afterward, she said she felt she had no other choice.
This kind of cheating happens a lot. In fact, Janell Mathus, a senior at Morgan Park, believes students cheat for many reasons. “I do believe that many students cheat,” Mathus said. “[It’s] because of the emphasis school places on good grades or [because of the] lack of good study habits. [It’s also] because cheating is an easy way to achieve and maintain good grades.”
Despite some schools’ tougher policies to discourage unethical behavior, cheating in high schools continue. In fact, almost 60 percent of teens admitted that they’ve cheated on a test during the last year, according to a survey of 40,000 high school students by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to encourage ethical behavior. The survey, conducted in 2010 and released in February, found that 34 percent have cheated more than twice. One in three students admitted that they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.
A 2008 Josephson survey found that 64 percent of students admitted to cheating on a test, and 38 percent did so two or more times. In 2006, a survey reported 60 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
Although the numbers have been consistent for five years, cheating has become more than an academic problem. It’s now an ethical one. In fact, the 2010 survey also found that even though more than half of students admitted to cheating, 92 percent of students were satisfied with their personal ethics and character.
A 2009 survey by the Josephson Institute reported similar results. It found that people who cheat in high school are more likely to be dishonest later in their lives and are three times more likely to lie to a customer or embellish an insurance claim compared to those who have never cheated. High school cheaters are also twice as likely to lie to their boss, and one-and-a-half times more likely to lie to their significant others.
Dr. Daniel Kaplan, a clinical psychologist who specializes in academic underachievement, attributed cheating to peer pressure. “If your classmates are cheating and getting better grades than you are, it creates a lot of pressure to join in on the cheating in order to keep up,” Kaplan said. “Students feel lots of pressure to get good grades in order to get into a good college.”
The rise in new technology also adds to the problem. “I have known about cases where students use the Internet to find pre-written papers, or even to cheat on exams using smartphones,” Kaplan said. “There’s also the possibility of texting to communicate information.”
Tyler, a Plainfield North junior who asked for his last name to be withheld, admitted that he takes advantage of technology to get ahead. “Last year, I got answers to tests from students via text messages,” he said. “They would take the class a few periods before me and help me out. This year, most teachers change the tests questions between class periods, so that can’t happen anymore.”
Kaplan said that the blurred definition of cheating may be another source of the problem. “The lines between what’s cheating and what isn’t are less clear than they used to be,” he said. “Teachers and school administration should provide very clear definitions of cheating to students as well as very clear consequences. For example, at the college level many students don’t seem to understand plagiarism. The advent of Wikipedia and the proliferation of information on the Internet may contribute to this.”
Raymond Epperson agrees, and that’s why he has provided a clear-cut definition of cheating as principal of Plainfield North. “[Cheating is] turning in work that’s not your own,” Epperson said. “Did you do the work? If you didn’t do the work and turn it in, that’s cheating.”
Epperson said that school administrators understand the temptation for students to take the easy way out because of the demands placed on them today, but that doesn’t mean cheating will be tolerated.
“Students have this pressure to achieve,” he said. “They have pressure to get into a certain college and they have to maintain a certain GPA, [but] the grade you receive in a class should be a reflection of what you learned. Therefore, the consequence of cheating should be disciplinary.
“If a student is caught cheating they will also have to redo that exam or assignment so I can see if you learned the material for yourself.”
Although some students might not consider cheating to be a big deal, school officials often handle cheating with serious measures. In fact, the punishment for getting caught can be as severe as a school wants it to be.
“Punishment for cheating varies and is established on a local level,” said Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois Board of Education. “Each high school sets up its own rules on cheating, and the consequences for getting caught are determined by the school districts.”
Students at Plainfield North were asked to sign a contract in the beginning of the school year, which stated that if students participate in any academically dishonest behavior, they will face consequences such as removal from the class, a zero credit in an assignment or a Saturday school detention.
For CPS, if a student is caught cheating more than once, schools have a right to suspend the student for up to 10 days. CPS lists a detailed explanation and consequences in their student policy handbook given to students every September. CPS spokesman Frank Shuftan said that all students and their parents or guardians are required to sign an agreement that they have read and understand the policy. Although it’s mandatory, not a lot of students turn the contract in, he said.
The heightened consequences and involvement by schools have caught the attention of Randi Peterson, a junior at Huntley. “Cheating is punished more severely nowadays than it was in previous years,” Peterson said. “It’s not worth bringing your integrity into question for full points on one assignment or a slightly higher score on a test.”
The best way to decrease the temptation to cheat is to have better time management, Peterson suggested. “If they can’t finish an assignment, they need to own up to it,” Peterson said. “They’ll learn more from telling the teacher, ‘I didn’t do the assignment’ and living with the consequences than mindlessly copying down the answers from a peer.”
But Kaplan believes that teachers have a bigger responsibility. “Instructors need to be very aware of all the possible mechanisms of cheating and do what they can to make cheating more difficult,” he said. “For example, instructors may use different versions of an exam for classes meeting at different times so that morning class students do not share answers with afternoon class students.
“Instructors also need to make use of anti-cheating and anti-plagiarism technologies, and make known their definitions of cheating and the consequences of getting caught.”
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