Cheating: an original (not copy-pasted, not plagiarized) in-depth report

In BSM’s Morality class, students learn about their “consciences,” a tool that gives them the ability to decipher right from wrong. From the first days of elementary school to the final days of high school, teachers remind children not to cheat and warn them of the conse- quences of doing so. However, it seems that somewhere along the timeline of countless assignments, essays, and readings, a grey area was formed between committing a punishable offense, and simply taking advantage of outside resources. The BSM handbook’s guide- lines may be clear, but the ethics of both students and teachers vary in what they consider to be cheating, why students cheat, and its true consequences.

February 11, 2016

The moral dilemma of cheating has plagued the education system since its beginning. The balance between school, activities, and a social life, mixed with pressure to have a satisfying GPA, take hard classes, and attend higher education generates a culture where taking short cuts becomes imperative. Cheating has become one of the biggest taboos in high school, but although the consequences are harsh and clearly expressed, many students still copy and plagiarize throughout their education––often without ramifications. Students understand the risk they take by cheating in school, but perhaps it’s a calculated risk. Afterall, it might secure the “A” all students are aiming for.

Most teachers at BSM review they syllabi on the first day of class, and as to be expected, most of them have a zero tolerance policy regarding cheating. “If you cheat you get a 0 on the assignment, or quiz, and then I file an academic misconduct report,” English teacher Mrs. Paula Leider said.

Leider has found that by sticking to her policies it reduces the amount of cheating in the classroom. “In practice [giving students a zero] worked very well. It happens maybe once and then people will learn that you aren’t someone who tolerates that,” Leider said.

Leider is not the only teacher who has strict guidelines in regards to cheating. “If a person is caught cheating they receive a 0, but helping someone cheat is also part of that. I have in my syllabus that if you make the choice to help someone else cheat you get a 0 as well,” English teacher Ms. Anna Overbo said.

A common form of cheating involves asking a classmate to share their answers, but placing peers in that situation forces them to make a difficult decision between helping a friend or risking their grade. “Don’t put someone else in the position to either say “yes” to you or do something that they don’t want to do. It’s a crappy thing to do to your friends––to ask them to get in trouble,” Overbo said.

Although zeros in the gradebook lead to stress students cheat to avoid, it becomes important to keep the lost points in perspective. “If you didn’t read it’s okay to take the 0. There will be another quiz where you can do the reading and bring the average up. It’s not fair to steal those 6 points,” Overbo said.

There are teachers, such as math teacher Mrs. Mary Seppala, who realize what kind of damage zeros can inflict on student’s grades. “If it’s a big test, then I usually give them a score that corresponds to 50%. That way the student gets an “F”, but it doesn’t completely break their grade. Depending on the class, giving a 0 on a test can be almost impossible to come back from,” Seppala said.

A few teachers at BSM have stopped giving zeros for cheating all together. “I’ve watched students cheat in my class and called them on it. What was their punishment? They had to learn the material. I didn’t give them an ‘F’, I just said that they haven’t demonstrated that they know the topic,” Science teacher Mr. Mark Peterson said.

Peterson is ensuring that his students have a chance to learn the topic discussed in class, and demonstrate their knowledge even after making the decision to cheat. “It’s not about the grade, it’s about what you know. If you come to class and you say you’re not ready then we’re not taking the test today. Maybe the rest of the class will, but you’ll take the test when you’re ready,” Peterson said.

To prevent trivial cheating from happening in his classroom, Peterson has done something unconventional with homework assignments. “My homework is assessed, which means I give students feedback on it but it doesn’t affect their grade. I watch kids copy homework all the time. That gives you no value. You’re not becoming a better learner by copying someone’s homework,” Peterson said.

For assessments other than homework, Peterson hopes his students will prove they have learned enough to pass the first time, without cheating. “It about integrity and trust. I want to be able to trust my students, and the business of doing what is right when nobody’s watching is important,” Peterson said.

Putting the amount of trust Peterson installs in his students is not beneficial for all teachers. Easy access to computers and the endless resources on the internet have made websites such as Sparknotes and Calchat only a few clicks away. “I draw the line at summary vs. commentary. I prefer kids not go into the commentary of those things [websites] because suddenly that’s someone else telling them what to think about the text instead of, ‘just incase you missed it, here is what happened,’” Overbo said.

While technology is often viewed as a cheating aid, for Leider, it has become a very valuable asset in stopping it. “I don’t have to go surfing the internet to find sections of papers that I think are plagiarized anymore. I can’t remember the last time I had a student turn a paper into Turnitin.com and it came up plagerized,” Leider said.

Turnitin.com, Haiku, and other technological resources have proven to be very helpful. “Haiku has been an awesome tool for me. I can mix up questions and answers so it’s harder to look across to another person’s computer,” Leider said.

These websites designed to stop cheating have become popular amongst teachers because, frankly, they work. They have the ability to stop cheating before it happens and even catch cheaters in the act. But why are students so inclined to cheat in the first place? In a survey sent to all students at BSM, 67% of the students who answered the survey believe cheating happens due to pressure from parents or internal pressure.

Teachers also agree that students are put through an extensive amount of pressure to do well in school. “I think students genuinely want to be successful in school. They want to please their teachers and parents. They want to get into a great college. There is a lot of pressure riding on students to do really well,” Leider said.

When students feel the inclination to cheat and act on it, they lose the valuable chance to comprehend the topic at hand, and comprehension should be the goal of any assignment. “I think it’s unfortunate that students have that pressure whether from within or from outside sources. It takes away from the business of learning,” Peterson said.

BSM’s culture also adds stress to students’ school lives. The school takes pride in the ability to send graduates to some of the best colleges in the country, but this can also create an environment where college prestige is critical. “That pressure to go to a good college is going to continue. I think there is a way to work with the educational system to be able to eliminate that temptation by doing more collaboration and more hands on learning experiences where kids can’t help but learn,” Leider said.

The challenge educators face is ensuring that students learn everything in the curriculum while not over scheduling. “I would rather workout a plan, help them brain storm or help them realize their resources instead of them feeling alone and buying a paper off of someone. If we have a lot of students who have to cut corners to take care of all the business that they have, that is a systemic problem,” Overbo said.

When outside factors place a time crunch on students, homework assignments are often pushed aside, but if learning is truly the main purpose of school, teachers must understand the moral dilemma many students are facing and adjust classroom policies accordingly even if that means trying something atypical. “I don’t have any due dates in my classroom. The whole point is that, you have lives outside of school,” Peterson said.

Teachers are able and willing to understand the complications students face when balancing their time. An easy step to help adjust stress caused by over scheduling, is to have a conversation. “I want students to do their own work because that’s how they learn best. If you are so stressed and overwhelmed with things that are going on in your life that you don’t feel like you don’t have time to do your own work, that’s a problem for me,” said Leider.

One of the easiest ways to cheat is by plagiarizing an article, particularly in English classes. The content usually doesn’t follow from one unit to the next and already completed pieces of writing are finished and ready for use on the internet. “Plagiarizing is so easy and I think so many people do it. It didn’t feel like cheating in a way just because of all the pressure. If you know a teacher isn’t going to check, I’m just going to do it to get those points,” Junior Joey Simpson said.

Copying and pasting finished essays or articles may be easy, but as Leider mentioned, the real cost is the learning that is lost through cheating, a lesson Simpson learned after plagiarizing through 8th grade and during 10th grade. “It may seem fine now, but later in life plagiarizing won’t get you anywhere. Learning to do research and [putting] the information you’re looking up in your own words will help you become a better writer,” Simpson said.

After being caught in the act of cheating, the moment to learn has been lost, but the chance to build and improve character still remains. “They have lost an opportunity to demonstrate that they have integrity, but I don’t know where you come from. It becomes an opportunity to learn about life skills and life,” Peterson said.

High schoolers are expected to study hard, test well and get the soaring grade to match, but this expectation is not realistic for everyone. Understanding personal academic strengths and weaknesses could be the key to eliminating excessive pressure to do well, pressure that leads to cheating. “Your best might be different than someone else’s best. If you can honestly say to yourself ‘I worked hard, I studied, and I did my best’ then that’s all you can ask for. Sometimes that results in a C. So be it,” Seppala said.

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