News stories this week are likely to intensify already palpable worries about the prevalence of high school cheating. Administrators at Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill recently discovered a longstanding cheating ring of up to 30 students. Students copied a master key, using it to unlock teachers’
offices after hours to take tests and answer keys. Many students reportedly knew about the key’s existence but elected to keep quiet.
Last year, a similar cheating scandal rocked Hanover, New Hampshire. As many as 60 students at Hanover High School were involved in a mass effort to cheat on final exams. Students used stolen keys to break into school filing cabinets and purloin tests. Local authorities have pursued criminal charges against ten of the students.
Surveys suggest such academic dishonesty is widespread. According to a 2006 Josephson Institute of Ethics character report card (polling more than 36,000 students), 60 percent (.pdf) of high school students said they cheated on a test during the past year. Sixty-two percent (.pdf) admitted lying to a teacher about something significant.
While we have always had cheaters among us, the number of students willing to flout the rules has risen dramatically. Sixty years ago, according to School Reform News, only 20 percent of college students said they had cheated in high school.
Now, not only are more students taking shortcuts, they often do so unencumbered by a guilty conscience. Shifting ethics, rather than moral absolutes, rule the day. Last June, Rutgers University researcher Donald McCabe shared his findings on student attitudes with the Washington Post, revealing that “47 percent of students do not think it is wrong to try to find out what is on a test from someone who has taken it.” If character is disposable, what matters most? Success: 42 percent (.pdf) of
students in the Josephson survey agreed with the statement, “A person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to
Indeed, the upper echelons of achievement are crowded with rule-breakers, with college-bound kids generally the worst offenders. Competitive Chapel Hill High is a case in point. Raleigh’s News and Observer says students caught cheating there were seniors in an advanced placement government course – clearly an accelerated bunch.
Why are kids cheating more? Some policymakers fault high-stakes testing and a “pressure cooker” environment. Others say a panoply of high-tech cheating tools is to blame. According to a 2004 Patriot Ledger article, cell phones are the new “information-age crib sheets.” Indeed, students can photograph notes with camera phones and text message friends with test answers. MP3 players, PalmPilots, and graphing calculators can all be used to cheat, according to news reports. Online, students can purchase term papers and turn
them in as original work.
Certainly, opportunities to be dishonest abound. It’s also true that many schools have become education boiler rooms, testing all the time. But let’s be frank. There’s nothing new about the temptation to cheat. It has always been with us. And it always will be. What’s different now is that more and more students lack the moral fiber to resist it.
Kristin Blair is a fellow at the North Carolina Education Alliance. This article is excerpted from The K-12 Update that she assembles for the NCEA.