January 24, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Why Do Students Cheat?


William Navarre contributed reporting.

The AP Statistics class took its midterm the week before Christmas Break, and last week they took it for a second time.  The administration is currently investigating a cheating incident involving a large number of AP Stat students who used cell phones to cheat on their midyear exam.  Teachers have since taken measures to make cheating in their classrooms more difficult, collecting cell phones before tests and circling the room like vigilant sharks.

The Stat Scandal may have been statistically unique, but cheating is as old as the hills and more common than teachers would like to believe.  Students share homework, warn their friends about upcoming tests, and even — gasp — use SparkNotes.  There is an unsettling widespread complacency among students towards academic dishonesty.  The Procrastinator interviewed some students about their attitudes toward cheating, and their responses varied.  One prevalent philosophy is that “school is a system.  In order to get ahead you have to work the system.”  This casts the cheater as a sort of noble rebel, outwitting the institution and sticking it to The Man.  Several students agreed that “if you don’t get caught it’s not cheating,” an ends-justify-the-means mentality that dodges the whole question of morality.  Under this logic it is the teachers who have a responsibility to create a system that can’t be gamed, and not the responsibility of students to be honest.

But many students strongly disagreed.  One boy declared, “I firmly believe students are capable of doing their own work to the best of their ability, especially GSA students.”  “I feel like school is a system, but you’re not supposed to game the system,” said one female honors student.  “You’re supposed to squeeze the system— get as much learning out of it as you can.”  One teacher reportedly condemned cheating as “wasting your parents’ money” by cutting corners in your education.  You get out what you put in.  Said one non-honors student, “Cheating is how I’ve passed three years of high school, but cheating is bad.  You don’t learn.  Plus you could be cheating off somebody who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of attitudes toward cheating is this: none of the students interviewed said that they would expose a cheater.  But if a cheater gets caught, most people agreed that their punishment should be severe.  “I don’t give a crap until it affects me,” said another student.  “Then I get right pissed.”  School is a system that rewards good students with very real, very valuable prizes.  Class rank can make or break college and scholarship applications.  One female student said, “I would feel terrible about myself.  You’re taking opportunities away from other people.”

The fact the cheating incident took place in an AP class appalled non-honors students.  “I would not be surprised by it in a lower-level class, but in a higher-level class that’s just sad,” said one young woman.  “They’re smart people.  They should probably be able to do it themselves.”  “People are quick to think it’s struggling students who cheat, but the opposite is true,” says Mr. Perkinson.  In the past year there have been widely publicized cheating scandals at Harvard and Stuyvesant, a prestigious high school in New York City.  The pressure on top students to not just succeed but exceed in their classes drives many to cut corners if it will mean the difference between a 93 and a 97 on their test.

So what keeps students from cheating if their peers won’t rat on them?  Guilt keeps some honest.  “I wouldn’t cheat,” said a student.  “I did once and felt really bad afterword.”  Others are more practical about it: “I trust my answers more than anyone else’s answers.”  One international student says he doesn’t cheat because “it’s boring to cheat.  You get the test and you know all the answers, and it’s boring.”  But some students would absolutely never cheat, because it’s just plain wrong.  Said Brandon Pizzuto in exasperation: “Just do your work, do your work!”

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