A History Of Cheating

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Nov
  • 18
  • 2007

A History of Violence movie poster changed to A History of Cheating A student transfered to my school recently because he was kicked out of another school in my district. Legal issues come into play here so there’s a lot I don’t know. I do, however, know that computer hacking was involved. We have been told to keep an eye on him and he’s banned from our online homework and gradebook system. For me, the trouble comes in the classes he’s taking.

Advanced Placement?

This student’s behavior was bad enough that my district transfered the student to another school with only 7 weeks left in the semester. Yet he’s enrolled in 3 AP classes.

On one hand, schools should not be in the business of teaching morals because that’s something to be done at home. Honestly, I’m not sure that schools are here to teach honor or integrity because those are value judgments that we are not experts in, are not paid for, and have not been hired based upon. I was hired because of my content area knowledge, not because I should pass on my ethics to students.

On the other, a school should not allow students privileges that their behavior suggests they do not deserve. In the case of a blatantly dishonest student (accessing a computer system using the administrator’s password is obviously dishonest), it almost seems like AP classes are a reward.

An Extra Layer?

On a related note, a colleague of mine has suggested that my school is laissez faire about plagiarism. We allow it to happen by virtue of the fact that we don’t treat it as seriously as we should. She thinks that plagiarism should follow students around from year to year, teachers should know of previous infractions, and instances of plagiarism should involve more people than just the student and teacher. Individual teachers may actively punish for plagiarism, but our system is lazy about curtailing it.

I disagree with this friend of mine on lots of things, this issue just being one of them. I understand her point, but the logistics involved with that kind of information gathering seems overwhelming to me. How does that info not become another data point to drown teachers? Is it fair for anything but first-hand knowledge to taint a teacher’s view of students? I’m also not sure that we should approach this from a “once a cheater, always a cheater” perspective. And if we’re not doing that, then there’s no reason to be concerned about whether this student has cheated before.

Are These Connected?

Is this hacker the case study for what happens when schools do not take previous behavior into account? Should previous actions play a role in course placement? Should schools start tracking cheaters throughout their educational career? Should certain behavior forbid enrollment in AP/IB/Honors classes? Should there be a statute of limitations or do shadowy pasts haunt kids for their remaining years in school? Do we go so far as to say that cheating in 3rd grade means no AP classes in high school? Does cheating in one subject area call for punishment in all subject areas?

Any thoughts on this? Should our hacker student be enrolled in AP classes? Should schools start tracking instances of cheating?


1. Jackie says:

[11/18/2007 - 2:21 pm]

If AP is the appropriate placement for this student based upon his level of achievement, then yes he should be enrolled in an AP course. Although AP Computer Science may be difficult if he isn’t allowed access to a computer.

Why are AP courses a privilege? Should the student be placed in a less challenging course due to a policy violation? I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences, I just don’t think said consequences should be tied to the courses a student is allowed to take.

2. Damian Bariexca says:

[11/18/2007 - 9:00 pm]

Yeah, I’m with Jackie here. Courses are not rewards or punishments. Disciplinary measures should be completely separate from the course selection process.

We started a half-hearted method of tracking cheating at our school. Long story short, it’s well-intentioned, but has really just devolved into more paper- and legwork for the teachers involved, with little to no tangible effect. The consequence for academic dishonesty at our school has always been an automatic zero for the assignment in question that cannot be made up. I don’t know why we felt it necessary to add layers of paperwork and meetings to that perfectly adequate consequence – it’s kinda like there’s a blacklist that no one is allowed to see.

3. Todd says:

[11/19/2007 - 9:04 am]

I dunno. It just stinks that a kid is transfered here for dishonesty and he’s put into classes that require a certain degree of academic integrity above and beyond. But I guess you’re right, Damian and Jackie: “Disciplinary measures should be completely separate from the course selection process.”

As for the “perfectly adequate consequence,” Damian, my friend suggests that it’s not adequate because it doesn’t stop the behavior from year to year (or even sometimes from assignment to assignment).

4. Damian Bariexca says:

[11/19/2007 - 9:44 pm]

And preventing students from taking classes that are appropriate fits for their ability levels would stop the behavior? I’m not sure I understand the reasoning there.

Your friend says that plagiarism should “follow students around”, but what does that mean operationally? Your friend isn’t offering any viable alternative, at least not as far as I can glean from your post. OK, fine – teachers should know about past infractions – and then do what with that knowledge? How is that any more likely to stop the behavior when your friend’s scenario actually provides a less immediate consequence than the zero grade? I must be missing something.

That’s the situation in which we find ourselves at our school. Paperwork is completed, parents are called, meetings are had, and for what? The same consequence as before – a zero on the assignment. We just created a procedure that adds a ton of legwork for the teachers to achieve the same result. Way to go, us.

As with any behavior you hope to change, cheating must also be addressed at the antecedent level. In addition to consequences, teachers and administrators need to create a climate of intolerance of academic dishonesty – does your school have a formal policy on it? Do the librarians and teachers all teach about the difference between citation and plagiarism?

If your school IS laissez faire about dealing with plagiarism, then you can’t expect to deal with it reactively and be successful, especially if consequences are given inconsistently across teachers. Cheating behavior will never be totally extinguished, but incidences of it can be reduced. The one thing that your friend is right about is that it needs to be addressed systemically, and all teachers and admin need to be on board with enforcing a set policy.

Just for the record, I’m not saying don’t impose consequences, just that you ALSO have to look at the circumstances that allow cheating to flourish, if that is indeed what’s happening at your school.

5. Joel says:

[11/25/2007 - 2:54 pm]

Enrollment in AP classes should have NOTHING to do with disciplinary/behavioral violations. Ban the kid from prom, not Advanced Placement Comparative Government. Academic achievement should not be hindered because of a misstep outside the classroom–they are two separate spheres and should be treated as such.

6. Todd says:

[11/25/2007 - 6:50 pm]

The more I think of this, I honestly do agree with you and others, Joel. But I’m not entirely certain that academic achievement is separate from discipline.

And Damian, I can say with a fair degree of comfort that students know when they have plagiarized by the time they reach high school. We’re dealing with entire paragraphs lifted verbatim from other sources. Kids know that is wrong, even if their teachers don’t directly say it.

An informal poll around my department says that we all give a zero to the offending paper with no chance at a make up. A school policy would be a good idea. I’ll talk to my principal.

7. Damian Bariexca says:

[11/25/2007 - 7:24 pm]

You’re right; there’s no excuse for lifting chunks of text and passing it off as their own, especially in high school (that’s just insulting; it’s like they’re not even putting any effort into cheating!). I guess I was thinking about inadvertent plagiarism via poor/incomplete citations with my comment about teaching.

The overall point I was trying to make was that if kids know they can get away with it with some teachers, they’ll be more likely to try it with other teachers, hence the need for everyone to be on the same page via a system-wide policy.

I can forward you some policy documents from my school to use as references/models if you’d like; drop me an email if you’re interested. They’re not perfect, but might work as a good starting point.

8. Ana says:

[12/2/2007 - 11:09 am]

Its amazing how many times I hear “Its not my job” in some way or other in the educational setting. We are EDUCATORS and whether we are teaching content or ethics, its all part of teaching our children to have integrity in and out of the classroom. Because so many of our students do not get the basics at home, what is to stop us from passing on some wisdom besides content that will only make them better persons which they in turn may pass on to others.