Our Cheating Hearts: Sixty-two percent of CFHS students admit to bending ethical bounds on class efforts

By Annick de Graaf and Margaret Poe 2004

It’s not cheating if … it’s just a few points on a quiz, simply a pointless worksheet or even just a stupid paper. This appears to be the mentality among the growing majority of high school students across the country. These are the results of the Rutgers Management Education Center survey of 4,500 high school at 25 different high schools, and CFHS student and teacher comments seem to echo those from the study.

While the Rutgers’ survey found that 75 percent of student are involved in serious cheating and a recent Hi-Line Poll found 62.5 percent of CFHS students admit to cheating, some CFHS students believe that percentage could be as high as 85 to 95 percent. Others said they think it’s “pretty common” or even “very common.”

Interestingly enough, teachers and administrators sid they feel that cheating occurs less frequently. Associate principal Dana Deines said, “I would say that 75 percent sounds high,” and social studies teacher Jeremiah Longnecker said, “I think most of the students in this school don’t cheat.”

Cheating Ethics Vary
Opinions on the topic vary widely, ranging from views that cheating is the best way to get through school to moralistic viewpoints that cheating makes a person dishonest and demonstrates little integrity.

In a group of four CFHS friends, only one of the girls believed that cheating was wrong. And each girl participates in cheating, citing the rationale that “if it help you,” it’s worth it.

And while many feel that cheating is prevalent and an easy option, some students try to restrain from engaging in it themselves. “Sometimes it’s hard not to (cheat), but I know it’s bad,” one CFHS student said.

Two CFHS boys expressed their feelings that it is wrong. “Your’re not doing the work yourself, not really learning anything,” they said. One CFHS girl agreed that “You’re just lying about what you know.”

Grace Valdez, a Spanish teacher, also holds strong views on the subject. “For me, it’s an ethcial issue. It tells how honest your are as a person. For me, you’re not only being dishonest to the teacher and other students, but to yourself,” she said.

People’s definitions of what exactly cheating is differ widely. In the Rutger’s survey, about 50 percent of the respondents said that they didn’t consider it cheating if they were copying questions and answers from a test. Regarding the compulsion for cheating, a few CFHS girls remarked that too much homework, combined with teacher ignorance, make cheating simply too hard to resist. They believe that if teachers would allot more time for homework to be done in class, they could ask more questions and would cheat less. It also seems that cheating is something engrained into the minds of many students from a young age. One girl said, “I’ve always done it, ever since first grade spelling tests.”

Deines saw student’s reason for cheating a little differently. “People use it as an excuse because they don’t adequately pan for an activity,” and he also said that some people choose to take the easy way out. He thinks that, often times, cheaters prioritize other activities before their education. For, as he vehemently stated several times, “Doing things the right way is hard.”

Competition Contributes
As often stated, this overload of activities prompts people to cheat and be extremely competitive. Longnecker said, “I think there’s a lot of competition,” which urges students to cheat in order to keep up with the high expectations. In a high-performing school like Cedar Falls High School, the pressure to saty at the top can force students to take the easy way oout. One CFHS girl said that if it helps you get into college, it’s OK.

Valdez said that this competition, in extreme amounts, negatively affects learning. “I personally am very concerned about the effect that focusing on grades so much takes away from the purpose of education,” she said.

Computers Add New Twist
While cheating has been around for years and years, modern techniques are different. Websites like Schoolsucks.com provide papers to students, sometimes even free of charge, making it all the easier to take the easy way out. One girl said that “technically, it’s not plagerism if they give it to you,” referring to websites that distribute essays to students. But others believe it takes too much effort to find an accurate and fitting paper on the Internet.

Other sites offer notes on books and are even promoted by some teachers as review sites. They know that cheating occurs and hope that students use such websites as resources like Sparknotes.com. “Tou can learn things from it, but there’s also a bad side to it,” she said. The “bad side” to such websites may be that students become too lazy to read the book or to come up with their own ideas when writing a paper about it.

One modern solution to Internet plagiarism becoming increasingly popular among educators is services that scan papers, according to an article in Wired magazine. Other teachers simply search the Internet and manually try to find the paper a student turned in to them. Both attempt to combat the new opportunity for cheating the Internet provides, and most students realize that teachers do such things. One girl said, “Some teachers know the Internet sites,” which prompts her to refrain from plagiarism out of fear.

Old Approaches Prevail
Besides using the Internet, students have also developed many creative devices to cheat. Traditional ways like copying worksheets from students who already had the class and writing on your hands or arms still prevail. A girl added that a long-sleeved shirt aids in the process of writing on your arm. It seems that many spend more creative energy on cheating than on actual assignments. On e alternative for the warmer months is to write information on flip-flop sandals, sometimes using stickers. Then, during the test, the student sits Indian-style and simply reads the information. Others find it more convenient to stretch out a rubber band, write on it and then wear it during the test. All it takes to read the information is a glance at the arm or perhaps a quick stretch of the rubber band.

Valdez said she remembered one extreme example of cheating from a few years ago. A student stole a copy of the year-end final and distributed it. She had to rush to make a new test and said it “really was unfair to all the students.”

People at Cedar Falls feel differently about whether cheating happens more among certain groups. One girl said, “I haven’t seen a lot of girls cheat, mostly guys.” That opinion seems to be in the minority, though, for many students said they thought that cheating occurs among all groups. Teachers share that opinion; Longnecker said, “I think it (cheating) runs the gamut.”

Risking Penalties
Upon questioning students about the aspect that fear plays in cheating, different responses emerged. One girl said she’s “not really” scared of getting caught. Other don’t cheat because of this fear. “I don’t cheat because I have a fear of getting in trouble,” one CFHS student said.

Some teachers attempt to instill this fear in students through stringent policies. Valdez said, “I’m very clear. I give them a written policy that clearly describes the test making rules.” Her rules include things like facing forward and having all materials under the desks.

Longnecker’s policy, however, it quite different. He warns students if he suspects cheating, but after that, “I simply tell them, ‘If I catch you cheating, you get a zero.'” But he said he believed most students who feel offended if he discussed his cheating policy often and he hasn’t even mentioned it this semester.

Even the administration is taking steps to prevent cheating. “We intend to add a sample policy regarding honesty, integrity and doing your own work,” Deines said. This would inform all students on the school’s views on cheating.

While teachers agree that cheating is a serious problem in education, they revealed that they weren’t always honest when they were in school. One teacher remembered one specific incident in college. “It was horrible. I just didn’t like the feeling,” she said. Afterwards she felt extremely guilty, and though she didn’t get caught, she felt like the grade wasn’t her own. Even Deines admits to sharing answers on math assignments while in school. Maybe their strong anti-cheating attitudes today are derived from their mistakes on this issue in the past.

Today, the prevalence of cheating at all levels of education is not debatable, and Cedar Falls High School clearly is no exception. People’s views on the morality of cheating vary; however, both students and teachers feel strongly about the issue. Both teachers and administrators work to punish and prevent cheating, but many believe that it really depends on students’ choices.

On the other hand, students believe it is the teachers’ responsibility to prevent it. But no matter what a person believes, as Deines said, doing things the right was is hard.

The real question is whether students will step up to the challenge.

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