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Given attitudes of kids, parents, have schools lost will to combat cheating?

Has cheating become as much of a fixture in high school as promposals and pep rallies?

Students seem to view academic dishonesty as part of the school landscape. Even teens who don't cheat say it's prevalent and near impossible to prevent.

A survey of 24,000 students at 70 high schools found 64 percent admitted to cheating on a test, and 58 percent owned up to plagiarism. Overall, 95 percent said they had cheated, whether on a test or by plagiarizing material or copying homework.

The assumption weaker students are more likely to cheat was challenged in surveys done by the California Department of Education and Who's Who Among American High Schools. The findings indicated top students may cheat more than others, possibly because of the arms race to get into elite colleges.

High school students contend schools aren't waging war on cheating. As an example, they say teachers must know students taking a test in first period often tip off friends taking it later, sometimes by snapping a photo of the exam and texting it. Yet, teachers will continue to give the same test to all their classes, according to teens.

Atlanta's Grady High School tackles this issue in its award-winning student newspaper, the Southerner. Here is an excerpt from the front-page story by Grady journalists Rachel Hasson and Gaby Paez:

In an anonymous survey of 100 random students, 88 admitted to having witnessed cheating at Grady, and 70 admit cheating themselves. On top of cheating in standard classes, cheating in Advanced Placement classes at Grady is nothing new.

“Students who take AP classes don’t seem to be any more or less likely to cheat than other students, although their motivation and methods for cheating might be different,” AP Calculus teacher Andrew Nichols said. “Students with overloaded academic and extracurricular schedules may choose to cheat to maintain their grades.”

In a previous study conducted by the Southerner staff in 2013, a study of 693 test scores on 13 assessments revealed test score averages from students who took an assessment on the second day a test was administered were 4.48 points higher than the averages of classes taking the assessment on the first day.

Most teachers prevent cheating on tests by giving out multiple forms, each with a different question order and answer choices...“Teachers and administrators can’t do this alone,” Nichols said. “Student leaders must speak up about taking pride in their work and the value of struggling with difficult problems. Teachers can help students understand the difference in collaboration and copying, and parents can talk to their children about responsibility and accountability.”

As the competition for select colleges continues and the pressures on students mount, many middle-class families are cheating under the guise of "helping." Parents end up doing their overloaded teenager's projects, essays or term papers. I know friends still editing their children's graduate school papers.

A New York Times story featured an interview an educator who discovered a student's mother had written her paper, plagiarizing a lot of the material. When the educator asked the student what she had learned from the experience, the young woman replied, "Check the work my mom does?”


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.