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Survey: cheating persists

Julie Chotivatanapong and Greg Zapas

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Despite the implementation of the new countywide mastery grading policy providing students with redo opportunities, the percentage of students who say they have cheated has risen 2 percent from last year. This year’s 88 percent rate marks the first year where cheating rates have increased since the steady decline during the past two consecutive years. It still remains 7 percent lower than the highest rate recorded in 2015 (95 percent).

Assistant principal Connie Dean isn’t surprised by this, attributing the increase to the unfamiliarity of the policy between students and teachers during the first few months of its implementation.

“Ultimately, mastery grading should cause a decrease in cheating,” Dean said. “I think it had the reverse effect because there was a lot of misinterpretation about what mastery grading was.”

The anonymous pen-and-paper survey, taken by 257 students in all grades and levels of English classes, asked students a variety of questions centered on how frequently they cheat and what methods they’ve used.

The majority of surveyed students say that mastery grading has had no effect on cheating. One anonymous student notes a reason behind this data.

“When I redo assignments, the teacher will sometimes leave a group of students in a room while they take a test. What do they think is going to happen? It’s like they’re asking us to cheat,” the student said. “If you do a redo, it’s because you want a better grade, and most of the time, you’re going to do whatever you can to get it.”

According to survey results, 68 percent of students reported that they cheat to meet their own expectations, and some connected this to the pressure of earning good grades.

“As the school system teaches kids more and more to care about grades, students will do everything they can to do well, even if it means cheat,” junior Liam Snow said. “Cheating will continue to happen unless school is about learning again.”

Social studies teacher Phil Bressler agrees that while students put most of the pressure on themselves to succeed academically, cheating should not be a justification for doing so.

“I don’t think there’s ever an excuse for cheating because that’s your character,” Bressler said. “As a person who works in the school system, it depresses me because personally I have to look at myself and ask, ‘Where’s the blame here?’”

Another key survey finding shows that cheating by the use of cellphones has increased 4 percent since 2015, the last year when a schoolwide policy prohibited cellphones in classrooms and permitted them solely during lunch hours.

Science teacher Mark Glaeser indicates a correlation between cellphone usage in the classroom and academic performance, but recognizes that preventing students from using their phones during the day remains difficult.

Tirzah Khan

“It’s proven that in schools that take cellphones away, students do better academically,” Glaeser said. “But when we said no cellphones between 7:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m., it was a battle. When we said ‘you can have them in cafeteria,’ that just proliferated into the hallways. When we said ‘you can have them in the hallways,’ well, now it’s 24/7.”

English department chair Jason Bowman explains that teachers can only do so much to prevent students from using cellphones.

“Students use their phone to look up things ahead of time, like on Spark Notes,” Bowman said. “For me, I don’t have a ton of resources to catch them; I’m not the CIA, so I have to teach to the students that are righteous and take the moral high ground.”

But Dean notes that the change in cellphone policy mainly affects those who make the voluntary decision to use their phone during class.

“I think kids in this building are old enough and smart enough to understand when they can use their phone and when they can’t,” she said.

Additionally, survey results revealed that for the third year in a row, cheating persists most frequently in math, science and foreign language classes.

“A lot of people struggle with math, and it’s not like you can easily copy someone’s entire English essay,” sophomore Anna Boland said. “But it’s pretty easy to copy someone’s math homework.”

Snow agrees, adding that students are more likely to cheat in subjects like math and science because they often involve problem solving, which is more difficult than memorization for classes such as history.

Out of all grade levels, seniors have cheated the most this year (76 percent), followed by juniors (71 percent), freshman (70 percent) and sophomores (66 percent).

Administrators and students alike aren’t surprised that seniors cheat most frequently. Dean, with a daughter of her own, understands that ‘senioritis’ tends to be a dominant reason behind cheating.

“I think that most seniors reach a point where they’ve had enough and just don’t take school quite as seriously,” Dean said.

Senior Hannah Bostwick agrees, but notes that cheating tends to persist in classes where teachers lack the same amount of commitment to their students.

“For teachers who don’t care, or assign busy work or fail to properly teach because they expect us ‘as seniors’ to know something, it’s hard not to reciprocate the minimal effort they’re putting forth,” she said.

While cheating as a school-wide problem persists, staff members continue to search for viable options to curb academic dishonesty. For Bressler, that solution is to remove cellphones entirely.

“We shouldn’t have cellphones in the classroom at all. I’m less concerned about the academics as I am about the mental health,” Bressler said. “They’ve become too addicting for students.”

As for reducing cheating rates, principal Sam Wynkoop explains that the first step to solving the problem is analyzing why students cheat in the first place and motivating them based on these reasons.

“Are they cheating out of necessity? Are they cheating out of laziness?” Wynkoop said. “If it’s necessity, then we need to look at the instructional program. If it’s out of laziness, then we need to encourage and help them to prepare.”

Science teacher George Mathew, like most teachers here, gives his students different test forms. He also tries a different approach, hoping to encourage students to make morally conscious decisions.

“I tell students all the time, if you’re going to cheat in school, and you design a bridge later in life, make sure your name is on it so I know not to drive over it,” he said. “Because I don’t want to drive on something from someone that cheated their way through engineering school. I won’t trust that bridge.”

Editors-in-Chief Sophie Bates, Meera Rothman and Amanda Musolf, and staff writers Alan Zhang, Andrew Vuong, Giorgio Gayleard, Quinn McCabe and Claire Vecchioni contributed to this report.

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