I am often asked what I believe to be the biggest problems in education, and without hesitation, my reply is always cheating. According to a recent Stanford study, 86% of high school students admitted to cheating on a test in school. In the same survey 66% of middle school students admitted to cheating. When asked about copying homework, almost all students did not consider this to even be a form of cheating. The SAT requires student identification at check, a recheck when students return from the bathroom, and no students are allowed to wear hats during the test because cheating is such a problem in testing. The above photo is my room on an exam day: all phones are required to be on the board when exams are out.
Why is cheating such a problem? Many students feel the pressure to make good grades and be accepted into a good college. The work load can also be extremely overwhelming with students taking multiple AP classes, and cheating becomes simply a way to survive. Ironically, the overwhelming majority of students who cheating are the “good” kids, the achievers because they have an image to uphold. Cheating also seems to be built into the school culture, public and private, and students are eventually worn down, tired of seeing cheaters get ahead and move to the top of the class without putting in as much work.
As teachers, we must keep the focus on learning and not grades. Grades should take into account an attempt to redo papers, projects, and exams when students do not master the learning target the first time. Teachers should also design tests in a way which show thoughtful answers and not a simple recall A, B, or C which is easy to cheat. Educators need to take the time to thoroughly explain plagarism, paraphrasing, quoting, and proper citation.
So how can a parent protect their child against cheating? First, stress to your child that learning is more important than grades. I am so saddened to see all of the focus on grades – not learning. Many students and parents want to shortcut to a straight-A report card, and there are rarely short cuts. Hard, consistent work over long periods of time yield these results. Give your child permission to not make all As as long as he or she is working hard and learning.
Next, focus on a well-rounded student. Even though we realized that our children may not be able to get into “elite” schools or pull high scholarship dollars, we wanted our children to be well rounded. Play sports, be involved at church, play an instrument, and set aside time for family are all things we wanted our children to do, and we realized that they may not be able to make all As while doing this. They had our permission to give make some Bs as long as they were giving their best. Many parents unknowingly set their children up to cheat by expecting them to excel in athletics and academics.
Finally, allow your student to suffer consequences if he or she is caught cheating. I’m continually amazed at how many parents rush to the defense of their child and make excuses for cheating. Accept the zero graciously instead of begging the teacher for grace and use it as an opportunity to teach character. I have known students get kicked out of college for cheating or lose a job due to
“cheating the company.” Learning this lesson in school has far less consequences than later stages in life.
The benefits of good character will outlast any gains from cheating every time! Be sure you are communicating this to your children regularly because even if they are good kids, they will at multiple times, be faced with the temptation to cheat.
Initiate a conversation with your student about cheating, the pressure of academic success, and appropriate tools to handle it.