In an age where information is available anytime, anywhere with the Internet, the advantages in daily life are numerous, and so are the opportunities for cheating in school.
With the click of a computer mouse or the push of a button on one’s iPhone, the information is there.
Nine out of 10 middle-schoolers admit to copying someone else’s homework; two-thirds say they have cheated on exams.
In 1940, just 20 percent of college students admitted to cheating during their academic careers. Today, that number ranges from 75-98 percent, according to Michael Hartnett, an English professor at Long Island University whose research led to his writing the book, “The Great SAT Swindle.”
He also found there are a few thousand questionable SAT (college entrance) test scores each year.
And cheating happens across the curriculum, across the grade span, right into college.
A recent study by the Virginia Commonwealth University found that between 40-70 percent of college students have cheated at least once during their years in school. Cheating can range from plagiarism to falsification of lab data, but a good amount of cheating occurs during class exams.
Most local school systems leave the punishment for cheaters up to the classroom teacher.
“The standard course of action when a student is caught cheating is to give him or her a ‘zero’ on the test or project,” Lauderdale County schools Superintendent Billy Valentine said. “Circumstances can certainly dictate the punishment, but on (state) standardized tests, we follow state guidelines in regard to cheating.”
According to the Educational Testing Service, which owns the SAT, there are numerous way students get caught cheating on the SAT or ACT. Both companies have anonymous hot lines individuals can call to report cheating, and in many cases, the proctor may catch a student cheating and report it to the proper authorities.
Still, the consequences for cheating on a college entrance exam aren’t too severe. Students are allowed to retake the test and they may choose to cancel their scores and colleges aren’t notified.
The thinking is that in the long run, a student who cheats is cheating himself by getting into a college for which he is not academically prepared.
Though cheating on standardized college entrance tests isn’t a widespread issue, there have been an estimated 2,000 cases of cheating out of approximately 2 million students who take the SAT each year.
The most common way a high school student cheats on a test is to copy another student’s paper. Some students use their cell phones to text answers and access the Internet for answers. Others bring cheat sheets that may be posted discreetly, on water bottles for example.
Some area school systems take a hard line on cheating, leaving room for no negotiation once the cheating student is caught.
“The student gets a zero, period,” said Mary Kate Smith, interim superintendent for Tuscumbia City Schools.
Having been a teacher and school principal, Smith knows the pressure students are under to perform well academically, but still, “cheating can’t be tolerated.”
Valentine said pressure on high schoolers to make good grades can be driven by parents in their quest for scholarship money for their teens.
“Parents are pressuring their kids to get scholarships for financial reasons,” he said. “Every student doesn’t have to have a scholarship to go to college. Sometimes, the parents’ motivation is for prestige. There’s a lot more pressure on kids to get scholarships now than there once was.”
As long as high-stakes tests matter so much, the chances that people will continue to try to cheat on them are high.
Valentine said in his district, the higher the stakes, the more the teachers safeguard the integrity of the test, making it difficult, if not impossible, to cheat.
“There has been an increased attempt to do more grading on group and interactive student work than just on pencil and paper tests,” he said.
Suzanne Huckaba, Central High School guidance counselor, said the biggest issue with cheating in her school is with research papers.
“The teachers explain plagiarism, but still, sometimes the students still don’t grasp the rules and aren’t even conscious of doing it,” she said.
As for cheating on tests, Huckaba said there sometimes has to be some flexibility because of circumstances.
“Anytime you’re dealing with kids, there has to be some flexibility,” she said. “More times than not the zero they earn for cheating can negatively affect them in ways other than an academic average. There are student organizations they can’t be a part of if they’ve had that issue. There are always going to be tough lessons for kids to learn, and the repercussions of cheating is certainly one of them.”
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.