Stricter testing environments necessary to reduce cheating

February 13, 2012 — by Sierra Smith

First offense: zero on the assignment, referral and parent contact. Second offense: loss of points or grade for assignment doubled, referral and parent contact, Saturday school. Third offense: dropped from the class with an “F” grade, five-day suspension, possibility of referral to an alternative educational placement.

At first glance, the penalties for cheating on a test or other “assessment activity” may seem like reasonable disciplines, but are they enough? The continuing struggle with cheating suggests that more precautions need to be taken to ensure academic integrity.

First offense: zero on the assignment, referral and parent contact. Second offense: loss of points or grade for assignment doubled, referral and parent contact, Saturday school. Third offense: dropped from the class with an “F” grade, five-day suspension, possibility of referral to an alternative educational placement.

At first glance, the penalties for cheating on a test or other “assessment activity” may seem like reasonable disciplines, but are they enough? The continuing struggle with cheating suggests that more precautions need to be taken to ensure academic integrity.

According to the Educational Testing Service, 73 percent of all test takers, including prospective graduate students and teachers, agree that most students do cheat at some point. In recent years, a staggering 75 to 98 percent of college students surveyed each year admit to having cheated during their high school career.

Gone are the days when cheating was the last resort for failing students, struggling to pass a class. Now cheating is commonplace among top-notch students who will do anything to survive the immense pressure placed on them by peers and parents.

Statistics also suggest that there has been a significant increase in cheating in the past 50 years. This unfortunate rise is likely the result of an increased competition to be admitted to universities and graduate schools, and a slightly less negative view of cheating from peers and society.

In an academically competitive environment such as the one at Saratoga High, students are especially pressured from their peers and parents and constantly reminded that they must have good grades now to have a successful future.

Clearly, with the increase in cheating, good grades have become more important to students than actually learning the material they are presented with or even maintaining academic integrity.

Cheating inevitably leads to more cheating. When students cheat to raise their grades, they end up steepening the competition that led them to cheat in the first place, and the trend continues. Many students fail to realize that cheating not only harms the cheater, but those influenced by him or her. Students see their peers cheating and get in the mindset that it’s acceptable.

Students who cheat are setting themselves up to fail. Whether it be on the SAT, at a job interview, or the acceptance to a college that the student is not qualified for, cheating will catch up with a student later in life.

Most cheating goes unnoticed, because cheating is very hard to catch. For this reason, the key to reducing cheating is through a stricter testing environment. Enforcing simple rules during exams, such as requiring cell phones to be powered off and put away, backpacks to be closed and out of reach, calculator covers to be removed and having multiple versions of a test, are a good start. And unfortunately, while it shouldn’t be necessary, teachers must remember to keep a watchful eye on their classes while proctoring a test.

An approach that may have a deeper impact in the mind of the students is a strengthening of the discipline system. If consequences are more severe, for even the simplest form of cheating on a first offense, students may be less inclined to compromise their integrity.

Perhaps the current punishment for a second offense should be that for the first: loss of points or grade for assignment doubled, referral and parent contact, Saturday school. The punishment for a second offense would then be a less severe form of the third, and the third would remain the same. The third offense being dropped from the class with an “F” grade, five-day suspension, possibility of referral to an alternative educational placement.

Receiving a zero on an assignment, while usually in some way detrimental, is something of a slap on the wrist that can sometimes be recovered from. With more severe consequences, a large portion of students will be less inclined to cheat.

Not only are students required to maintain their own integrity, but it is the responsibility of students to report when they see other students cheating. At the college level, students are required to sign an honor code, such as the one at Stanford University, that says not only will they refrain from cheating, but that they will “take an active part in seeing to it that others as well as themselves uphold the spirit and letter of the honor code.”

It is unfortunate that any measures must be taken to maintain integrity, but we must up the ante in order to return to a school environment where academic integrity is held in the highest regard.

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