Amid concerns about cheating at Severna Park High School, Anne Arundel County student government leaders said that the problem is common at their schools too and goes unchecked because of defensive parents, weak administrators and a frantic competition to get into top colleges.So let's see, students cheat on homework and quizzes, this is not surprising, nor are "homework deals." The fact is that teachers should know better and if they don't they should be taught better how to spot cheating. The problem of course is that teachers have to have a creative imagination for cheating schemes and that may not be easy since they are butting up against numbers. A small number of students will cheat or attempt to cheat. Those students will combine their brainpower to attempt to overwhelm the teacher, who has other things to worry about and thus doesn't devote the brainpower to ferret out cheating.
At a forum this week with two school board members, students said they do not believe their schools are abiding by a five-year-old Board of Education policy that requires an Honor Council made up of parents, educators and students in every middle and high school. The council is supposed to keep tabs on the academic integrity in schools and review and update policies as concerns over dishonesty arise.
Students from some middle schools described the tactic of tapping on desks to share answers during multiple choice tests. Others talked about "homework deals" where each student in a group is responsible for answering one or two questions, then they all trade the responses to complete an assignment.
A student who shared some of these details before a teacher apologetically said, "I'm not trying to say teachers are oblivious..."
But Meade Middle School social studies teacher Robi Gilbertson admitted it: "No, we are. We don't know some of the things that are going on. In the last two minutes, you've just told me things that I had no idea were going on."
Annapolis High sophomore Nia Calhoun said cheating at her school was common.
"I haven't seen it on any major tests like AP or anything, but it happens all the time on class quizzes and homework, it's like, 'Hey, what's your answer on this?' or 'What'd you get for that?'" she said.
Calhoun and others from Southern, North County and Northeast high schools described an "unhealthy competition" that grew out of a frenzied and competitive rush to get into exclusive colleges. That rush, along with the school board's recent push for higher enrollment in the courses, had many classmates signing up for AP courses to beef up transcripts, even if they're not ready for the college-level work.
But the fact that cheating occurs is no surprise, but the fact that students place some of the blame on the administration is troubling. The pressure to inflate the enrollment in advanced classes (which is one measure of a school's quality thanks to Jay Mathews' Newsweek list of the most challengeing high schools) means that student unfairly feel pressure to attempt difficult classes for which they are unprepared. Thus that cheating occurs should not be that surprising given the pressures.
So what is to be done. Well first, there needs to be a great deal of focus put on ethics and honor codes. The punishments for cheating need to be harsh, severe, public and quickly meted out. Failure of a test or quiz is a good first start, but if the practice continues, the punishments must get stiffer, including and up to expulsion. Ethics are taught at a young age and if a student believes they can get away with cheating or get only a light punishment, they will continue to cheat because the cost/benefit analysis they make leans toward cheating.
Second, put an end to homework deals, making the participation in such arrangements, unless specifically authorized by the teacher, equal to cheating on a test or quiz.
Third, teachers need to be taught, perhaps by students themselves, about cheating schemes. Teachers could also use an in-service day or two to spend on the matter, exchaning ideas. In short they need to set up their pool of brainpower to counter the students.
Fourth, start using technology to mix things up. One method by which standardized test developers use to counter cheaters is to have multiple test forms, where the questions on the test are the same but in a different order. Teachers, and school administrators, should start mixing the questions on tests and let students know that tests have multiple forms as a means of counteracting cheating. It doesn't need to be a unique form for each student, but usually three forms would be enough. It also doesn't have to happen on each quiz, the simple fact that there could be multiple forms would be a deterrent as long as multiple forms were used occasionally.
Fifth, the school administration, from the school board on down should revamp its push for higher level classes until they can be sure everyone is ready for such coursework. This means focusing on elemetary and middle school curricula as well as basic level curricula in high school to be sure students have the necessary skill and knowledge to perform in AP/IB classes without having to resort to cheating.
One thing is for sure, Maryland schools should be a lot more vigilant.