Staff editorial: Policies on academic integrity need updating, clarifying

February 13, 2023 — by William Norwood and Divya Vadlakonda
Photo by Annie Liu
The handbook outlines the school’s academic integrity policy. 
The Academic Integrity Violation Policy requires an update and a solid definition of cheating.

According to the Educational Testing Service, between 75% and 95% of students admitted to cheating in high school in recent years. This is a stark contrast to the 1940s, when only 20% of high school students said they had cheated. In a 2022 survey conducted by the International Center for Academic Integrity, 95% of students confessed to having cheated in some form.

Considering these statistics, it’s hardly surprising that cheating scandals at SHS seem to occur regularly. Most recently, 22 students were found to be participating in a group chat in which students shared answers to chemistry homework. When the group chat came to light, the students received referrals and an academic integrity speech by the administration and, lacking further proof of actual cheating, most were then let go — apparently without a mark on their permanent records. 

Of the entire group chat, only two students actually received disciplinary action. Those who sent work in the group chat were the ones disciplined, but there was not enough substantial evidence for anyone else to get in trouble. It begs the question of what can be classified as cheating and what cannot.

This issue is exacerbated by inconsistent classroom policies on academic integrity. The current school handbook should be updated to reflect a universal definition of cheating and its consequences — one that is standardized across all teachers, the board and administrators. 

With constant technological developments, it is becoming easier and easier to cheat. The internet has become an increasingly relied upon external source of information, especially with the rise of artificial intelligence like ChatGPT to help students write essays by simply entering a prompt. Students have admitted to using ChatGPT to summarize their readings in order to shorten their homework load, going as far as to say that using other resources for more efficiency in completing their homework should not be counted as cheating. 

Each fall, every teacher gives out their own unique syllabus, outlining their own academic integrity policies. In addition, many teachers spend class time at the beginning of the year to highlight the importance of upholding academic integrity. 

The current school handbook says that “copying work assigned to be done independently or letting others copy one’s work or another’s work,” is considered cheating. It also lists the consequences of violating academic integrity: The first offense a student results in a zero on the assignment and a referral, the second offense results in an “infraction noted on secondary school report” and the third drops the student from their class with an “F” grade and the student receives suspension and a possible referral to an alternative education placement.

Despite rules like this, many student group chats circulate among students, some with the sole purpose of sharing notes and homework answers. While some teachers encourage students to work with their peers by sharing notes and study guides to better understand the content and reduce stress, other teachers would consider this a violation of academic integrity, since sharing work can inhibit students’ understanding of material. 

In addition, academic policies regarding when to report cheating vary  from class to class, blurring the lines in the process — for example, some English and history teachers condemn the usage of Wikipedia as a source, while others seem to not give it a second thought. 

Such inconsistencies and nuances often serve to confuse students. Students need to be taught to understand where collaborating purposefully with peers crosses the line into cheating or how to properly use outside sources.

Through updated policies, students can get better guidance on what counts as cheating, including answers to questions on whether students should be allowed to use ChatGPT and to what extent. Cheating is commonplace: It will always exist. But by establishing a consensus among both teachers and administrators on academic integrity rules, students will know where they stand in ethically challenging situations such as class group chats.

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