The cheating dilemma: Students take homework ‘help’ to a new level

April 1, 2019 — by Edwin Chen and Nitya Marimuthu

As students race to buff up their college resumes, competing over the highest grades in the hardest classes, academic pressure continues to rise. With the everlasting pressure and the increase of technology that makes it easier to share resources, some students have found it easier and more necessary to cheat on their homework.

The age-old problem of cheating on homework  shows no sign of ceasing, despite the school’s policies to prevent it. The Falcon examined the issue from multiple points of view.

A sophomore boy’s casual attitude toward cheating

As the bell marks the start of tutorial, a sophomore boy discards his black bookbag on a row of short shelves and prepares to complete the homework that is due later that day.

He wanders around the library, asking his classmates for their homework. After many rejections, he finally finds a classmate willing to give him a peek at his homework. As the sophomore copies his classmate’s work, he laughs and makes jokes with his friends, little realizing he has just committed a suspendable action.

His lack of academic integrity is a direct result of his belief that the assigned homework eats time and lacks utility and isn’t the equivalent of real cheating.

“I don't have time to do my homework and most of the time it’s some pointless assignment anyway,” said the sophomore boy.

He mostly cheats in his “easy” classes where he can pick up the material quickly when a test rolls around.

Assignments like long readings that require him to scan the passage to answer questions make him turn to cheating. For him, cheating on this kind of assignment saves him time, without affecting his academic performance later on.

By cheating on one assignment, he said he gets time to do work for other classes.  

For his “harder” classes, he still cheats, but gets around to doing the homework at a later time. For those classes, he admits that cheating would lead to problems that would concern him.

“I don't really cheat in any of my harder classes like math or science,” said the sophomore boy. “I need to be able to understand the content.”


Easy solutions to late-night dilemmas

His phone dings with a new message. The message contains a picture of the completed math homework due next class. This week, he was not the first to finish math homework, so he did not share his work with the other four students on the group chat.

If he has time to finish the homework, the sophomore boy will. However, when it is 1 in the morning and he is faced with mounds of homework, he admits that he sorts through and completes only that which will benefit him later. He leaves what he perceives as busy work to copy off of someone else.

“For math or science I think it's important to do homework but for history, homework’s kind of useless,” he said.

He said some of the teachers use homework to teach new material. In those cases, completing homework is necessary.

The punishments that come from cheating have so far failed to deter him.

“If it’s just homework, I don’t really think about it,” he said.

When informed of the actual punishment, ranging from a referral to getting dropped from the class with an F grade, all the way to a five-day suspension, the sophomore was surprised. He said that he would probably “hate” a teacher who reports him for cheating on homework. In general, the sophomore thinks the repercussions for cheating far outweigh the crime itself.

“I feel like the consequences for cheating on homework are exaggerated,” he said. “Copying once on homework is not going to do anything bad.”


Administrator outlines possible  punishments

According to assistant principal Brian Thompson, cheating is the biggest discipline issue that administration deals with on a consistent basis. This ranges from plagiarism, to copying homework, all the way to cheating on online tests, as happened earlier this year in freshman-level health classes.

Thompson cited the increase of technology as a large contributor to the cheating issue. With easier access to information, many students find it easy to find and share answers.

To prevent cheating on assignments, tools like, a plagiarism detection tool embedded into Canvas, aid teachers in preventing cheating. Canvas also comes with other functions for teachers, such as the ability to see how many keystrokes a student makes while writing pieces on Canvas.

Cheating risks severe consequences depending on the level of the offense. Level 1 offenses, which are typically first-time minor offenses, usually lead to a zero on the assignment and a referral, while more serious offenses such as stealing an answer key can result in a student getting dropped from a class with a failing grade.

For students with two offenses or more in a four-year period, administrators fill out a secondary school report form that informs private schools or colleges about the academic integrity violations committed by the student applicant.


What some teachers are doing

First-year History and Geography teacher Melissa Hesselgrave said she understands that many students have extracurriculars and do not have much time for homework, a problem that contributes to cheating.

When assigning homework and projects, she said she tries to avoid assigning mindless work. She includes more group work to give students a support system due to the reluctance to ask teachers for help that leads to an increase in cheating.

Science teacher Jenny Garcia believes the choice to cheat lies with students themselves. She thinks cheating is just as prevalent as it used to be two or three decades ago.

“Maybe my head’s in the sand and I am not seeing it,” Garcia said.

She reports incidents of students cheating around two to three times per year, she said. When it happens, Garcia describes it as a “gut punch,” adding that teachers tend to take it “very personally.”

After seeing many of these cases reach him, Thompson said academic pressure in the community is a contributing factor, and he tries to emphasize that cheating is not worth the repercussions.

“[For most students]it is unrealistic to take four, five, six honors or AP classes,” said Thompson. “Take classes you can manage realistically so that you don't have to give away your integrity when you run out of time.”

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