High-profile cheating scandals at Harvard College and elsewhere suggest that cheating has become commonplace at all academic levels, including at private high schools and middle schools. In fact, a recent article in the New York Times cited experts who believe that cheating is not only rampant but is only getting worse. In addition, the article suggested that a majority of students break rules governing academic integrity and that academic high-achievers are just as likely as other students to break the rules.
The experts cited in the New York Times article believe that cheating is on the rise partly because of a winner-takes-all mentality in which parents and students celebrate success over the process of learning. The experts also believe that the internet facilitates the process of cutting and pasting other people’s ideas and makes the idea of authorship less important. Finally, an academic culture that encourages group work and cooperation, as many now do, can encourage students to copy or share work when they are not intended to do so.
There is no doubt that in the competitive world of private schools, students, parents, and teachers can often get caught up in the end results of learning more than in the process of learning, which sometimes includes failure. In addition, parents, teachers, and students often feel under a great deal of pressure to achieve results, when the students in particular have very busy schedules that don’t always permit them to do everything at a very proficient level. For example, many private students have extracurricular activities such as drama, sports, or the school newspaper that keep them late at school, and then they must do several hours of homework in the upper grades. As a result, many students turn to cheating on tests, plagiarizing papers, or otherwise cutting corners. Here are some ways to curb cheating in private school:
Ways to Reduce Cheating in Private School
There are different methods teachers can use to reduce cheating. They can create an honor code, working with their school, so that the students clearly understand what rules govern their work and what is not allowed. Students’ confusion about what is allowed—and what isn’t—can not be underestimated. For example, many students involved in the cheating scandal at Harvard thought it was acceptable for them to share work, as they had been following this practice in other classes. If students are involved in helping to formulate the honor code, they will be more invested in following it.
Next, students need to be explicitly taught what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. It is surprising how many teachers tell students to avoid plagiarism without explaining how to do so, including how to conduct research, paraphrase materials, and cite their sources. In addition, plagiarism and copying are much less likely to occur when teachers are very involved in the process of students’ work. For example, teachers can go to library with students when they begin their research projects, help them find sources, and check in with them about their progress. When a teacher meets directly with a student, the teacher can more realistically assess if the student truly understands his or her work and evaluate how the student is moving towards the final product. This process also helps the teacher scaffold each step of the process of researching and writing, which are vitally important skills. Teaching students how to evaluate and select information is so vital in the information age, and it also helps reduce cheating.
Finally, teachers must be aware of how students are unfortunately using new forms of technology, such as cell phones and even scientific calculators, to store and retrieve information during tests. Students who cheat sometimes also use their laptops to access the Internet during tests. While these devices can be good educational tools, they often must be confiscated—or checked in the case of scientific calculators—to be sure they aren’t being used inappropriately. While long-term education and the support of parents are critical in reducing cheating among students, there is no dobut that in the short term, teachers must unfortunately serve as watch dogs to monitor their students’ work.