W ILL1AM SANDERS KNOWS IT’S WRONG TO CHEAT BUT HE DOES IT ANYWAY.---- SO DO MOST OF HIS WV SCHOOLMATES, SAYS THE I 7 YEAR-OLD SENIOR AT WALT WHITMAN HIGH SCHOOL IN BETHESDA, MD.------- ONE OF THE BEST PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN THE NATION.
Whitman’s average S.A.T . score is more than 200 points above the national average, and each year about 40 Whitman students are accepted by the Ivy League colleges.
Sanders will go to any length to gain an edge, even using an advanced programmable calculator as a cheat sheet. When Sanders’s math teacher learned that students were secretly storing exam information in their calculators, she required all calculator memories to be canceled before each test.
Last November she watched as Sanders punched buttons until “Memory Cleared” appeared on his unit’s screen . But the boy had equipped his calculator with a sophisticated program that could retain its memory even when cleared. Alone at his desk, Sanders punched a few buttons and up popped the live trigonometry formulas he had entered the night before.
Asked why he cheats, Sanders—an A student who takes only honors classes— says, “It’s the grades. I don’t want to mess up and be in a hole.”
Grades aren’t the only reason, however. For $20 Sanders hooked his calculator to a friend’s and transferred all the answers to a chemistry exam he had taken earlier. “That’s just the way it is,” Sanders says, explaining his actions.
From coast to coast students are cheating and getting away with it . Honesty and integrity have been replaced in many classrooms by a win-at-any-cost attittide that puts grades, expediency and personal gain above all else.
“Moral standards have become so eroded that many children can no longer tell right from wrong,” says Kevin Ryan, founding director of the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University.
Educational psychologist Fred Schab surveyed high-school students in 1969 and again in 1989. In 1969, 34 percent admitted using cheat sheets on tests; by 1989, that figure had doubled. In 1969, 58 percent of students had let others copy their work; by 1989, 98 percent said they had.
Even our highest-achieving high-school students arc routinely cutting ethical corners . In a survey of 3100 top high-school juniors and seniors that was just conducted for Who’s Who Among American High School Students, 78 percent said they had cheated. And then 89 percent said cheating was common
at their schools.
In another survey Stephen F Davis, professor of psychology at Emporia State University in Kansas, asked more than 3000 college students across the country if they had cheated on tests in high school. Seventy~six percent said yes. “The very numbers alone are disturbing,” Davis says, “but even more alarming is the attitude. There’s no remorse . For students, cheating is a way of life.”
How has this happened? Why do students ignore basic ethical principles? Months of research and many’ many conversations with high-school students across America have revealed the disturbing answers.
Cheating Is Easy.
Samantha Kane, a petite, vivacious ninth-grader at a Los Angeles County high school, strolls through her favorite shopping mall one school night. “Everybody does it,” she says when asked about cheating. She holds up her left hand and proudly displays minute abbreviations of the 50 states, inked on her palm for an exam earlier in the day. “I don’t feel guilty,” she says. “I feel good because I’m going to get a good grade.”
Grades are a common reason students give for cheating, along with laziness, not enough study time and the fact that “everybody does it. Whatever the excuse, however, students are unanimous on one point: schools make cheating easy.
Students are confident they can get away with dishonest behavior because they rarely see it challenged. Again and again, kids report that many teachers do not pay attention during tests. At University High School in Orlando, Fla., one science teacher often leaves the classroom during exams. When she does, it turns into “a big group test,” a former student recalls . “Every-one looks to their close neighbor and says, ‘What’s the answer?’ Some kids stand up and shout them out. He concludes: “Cheating has become a guiltless type of thing. Ten minutes cheating is better than two hours studying.”
Students say cheaters are rarely caught and hardly ever face serious punishment . At Waterloo (N.Y.) Central High School, Jay Foster received scores of 95, 90 and 85 on typing tests. Normally Foster is a mediocre student, but not when he’s grading himself. Months earlier, when his typing teacher left the classroom for ten minutes, Foster reached under her desk, pulled out her grade book and rewrote his scores. The teacher apparently never noticed that the grades were not in her handwriting.
“Kids have no moral compass other than enlightened self-interest,” says Boston University’s Ryan. He blames the nation’s schools for abandoning their traditional role of providing students with moral guidance. “It is the legacy of the 196os that schools do not pass on the ethical values of society, he says.
Yielding to Pressure.
Even when teachers know about cheating, many are reluctant to do anything about it. Michae l Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina Del Rey, Calif., met with 51 Advanced Placement, college-bound seniors from a West Los Angeles high school. A majority admitted to cheating frequently. After the students left the room, Josephson asked their teacher how he could tolerate such wide-spread cheating. The shocking explanation: “If we stopped our students from cheating, they would be at a competitive disadvantage.”
Students are not the only ones under pressure to perform. So are teachers and administrators. Why? In some of the nation’s public-school systems, teachers’ and administrators’ evaluations——and occasionally salaries— are affected by student performance. What’s more, schools with high grade-point averages can earn national reputations that help faculty, administrators and superintendents get better contracts, extra funding and incentive bonuses.
At Brea Olinda High School in Orange County, California, math teacher Linda Bridge was checking a student’s file in May 1994 when she was shocked to see that his grade had been changed to Pass. Other teachers also found dozens of switched grades. After several months, the full scope of the grade changing had became public. An in(lependent auditor found over 6oo changed grades and other discrepancies in the transcripts of 287 students. Ironically Brea Olinda had recently been named a “Blue Ribbon School” by the U.S. Department of Education, one of public education’s most coveted honors.
School-district officials said no one had “intentionally violated” the law. But as Del Weber, then president of the California ‘Teachers Association, points out, changing grades is “absolutely unconscionable. It destroys the credibility of the whole system.”
Often the problem is with the parents: schools are reluctant to punish students who cheat because they fear a confrontation with their parents. At Diamond Bar (Calif.) High School, the administration acted swiftly when they discovered that students in Advanced Placement biology and computer-science classes had stolen or shared information from tests. The students, who confessed, were promptly suspended for five days, dropped from the classes and given Withdraw/Fail (W/F) marks on their transcripts.
Then the parents of several of the students appealed to a top school-.district official to remove the W/Fs from their children’s records. Citing school policy, the school district agreed. “No Big Thing.” Allowing cheating to go unpunished not only reinforces dishonest behavior but also penalizes and demoralizes honest students.
Almost two years ago, Angela Lam was a 17-year-old senior at Chicago’s Steinmetz High School, a four-year honors student and the school’s National Honor Society Student of the Year.” But Lam was tormented by a terrible secret. It started in January 1994 , as I am captained the school’s Academic Decathlon team in a prestigious annual competition. in 12 years of trying, Steinmetz had never made it the state finals . Then came the last event of the 1994 regional contcst five multiple-choice questions. The intense competition had run
all day in the packed high-school auditorium. But Lain noticed that the Steinmetz coach, English teacher Gerard Plccki, was smiling . He handed her a small slip of paper bearing five sets of numbers and letters: 21-A. 22-C. 23-D. 24-E 25- F. “These are the answers he explained softly. “Memorize them.
The event would begin any minute. Lam panicked, trying to decide what to do. Five other team members had already looked at the answers. She opened her hand and memorized them. The team tallied a perfect score and won the event. Later that night Lam was overcome by anguish when her boyfriend praised her performance. She threw her medal on the floor and broke down, crying.
Three days later Lam went to Plecki’s office and turned in her medal, the only team member to do so. Plecki tried to change her mind. “It’s no big thing,” he said. “Everybody cheats; that’s the way the world works. You’re a fool to play by the rules.”
Lam was not swayed . But pressured by Plecki and her classmates, she kept the cheating a secret. Then, last March, 1995) she learned that Steinmetz had won the 1995 state Academic Decathlon championship with the highest score in the nation.
It was too much for Lam: she told a newspaper reporter what had happened during the 1994 regional competition . Plecki finally admitted the truth about that, but steadfastly maintained that the 1995 state championship was won honestly.
Gradually, however, the true story came out. Advance copies of the 1995 test were stolen by a Steinmetz student and given to Plecki, who made sure his team studied with them.
Steinmetz was stripped of its title. Plecki was forced to resign . For her honesty Lain was cursed as a “snitch,” her apartment was vandalized and she was assaulted with hate mail and phone calls.
Cheating is a national scandal. The only way it can be defeated is for every school to confront it aggressively. “We need to focus on producing young adults who know how to behave when nobody’s watching,” says Al Burr, a former public-high-school principal fo r 30 years in the St. Louis area . “Schools have copped out by saying they can’t teach values because they’re controversial. Since when are honesty and integrity controversial?”
North Layton Junior High School in Utah instituted a values-education program requiring teachers to stress the importance of core values and ethical behavior. At Newman Smith High School in Carrollton, Texas, students created their own six-point ethics code, emphasizing honesty and character.
Some schools have adopted a code that requires students to abide by an honor statement and help resolve cheating allegations (see box). Robert Blundell of Standish, Maine, knows firsthand how such honor codes deter cheating. Last November Blundell, a senior at Windham Christian Academy, was below the grade-point average required to stay in school. One afternoon he copied another student’s math homework. He was shocked when he was called to the principal’s office. “It’s come to our attention that you’ve been cheating,” Blundell was told. He had been turned in by a classmate, as required by the school’s code.
Blundell confessed and was expelled. He graduated last June from a public high school. But he learned a lasting lesson. “Nearly everyone in my new school was cheating, but I knew it wasn’t worth it,” he says. “I didn’t cheat again.”
Honor codes are not enough, howcver. Educators have to do more. When taking tests, students should be seated as far apart as possible or be given different versions of tests. Teachers should vary tests from year to year and from class to class and monitor students during exams.
Students must also know that they will be held accountable for their behavior. A high-school junior in New York admits that he and his friends cheat in every class except one, taught by a teacher nicknamed Sarge. She patrols the class during exams and deals decisively with cheaters. “If your eye wanders, Sarge rips up your paper and gives you a zero,” he says.
Ryan Davis, who graduated last June from Horizon High School in Thornton, Cob., witnessed widespread cheating all four years. He believes that if students faced real punishment, cheating would be curtailed. “If they knew it meant an automatic F,” Davis says, “there would be a lot less cheating.
The epidemic of cheating in America’s schools is bad news for all of us. “Cheating is habit-forming,” says Jay Mulkey, president of the nonprofit Character Education Institute in San Antonio , Texas . “Students who cheat in class may well cheat in their jobs or on their spouses. When you have a country that doesn’t value honesty and thinks character is unimportant, what kind of society do you have?”
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