Doing Something about Cheaters

This story is old news (I told you, I've been saving these up for weeks) but also disappointingly familiar.  When you tell a student the test is really, really important, s/he has two options: work hard or cheat.

Maybe it's not that simple. But I really think it is. And I have backup: last year in a faculty meeting, four young women stood up in front of us and told us that here, in a Christian environment that most people consider more family than business, cheating was alive and well and rampantly destroying students' ideas about right and wrong. Here were some of the many ways students had been bumping up their scores:

  • Information written on body parts or clothing (masking tape makes this process easier to hide afterwards.)
  • Exchanging tests with another student.
  • Hiding pre-written essays in stacks of "scratch" paper.
  • Backsides of water-bottle labels, turned so teachers couldn't see the answers. (?!?!?)
  • Phones: photos, texting, furtive conversations in the bathroom.
  • Talking, signing or texting while a teacher answers a question at another student's desk or her own.

We all sat in shocked silence as these students, who had gone to the administration on their own initiative, asked us to please be more careful with our answer keys, change seating arrangements and not work at our computers while we administered tests. We felt betrayed for having trusted our classes with greater freedoms. We vowed to change things, and we did. I watched the expressions of dismay proliferate when I told students they had to leave their bags outside, or sit in different seats, or take a different form of the test than the one the other class had just taken. 

Some of this is just common sense: of course, teachers shouldn't be so preoccupied with other tasks that they fail to notice students' activities. But I also blame the modern lack of respect for information. Here's the thing: when you can look up a fact on a phone or tablet or computer in a matter of seconds, you don't see that name or date as worth remembering. You start thinking, "I could learn this if I wanted to, but I don't have time." Our whistle-blowers told us some of the worst cheaters they knew were some of the brightest students in the school who, because of commitments to sports and boyfriends and even church, had neglected to carve out enough time to really study the information. It started with one homework assignment late at night, or a quiz they had forgotten about until the period before -- and suddenly they were caught in a cycle, afraid that if they stopped, the grades they had depended on would suddenly plummet back into normalcy.

And while I know that cheating is as old as the first test, this easy access to information has made it easier, increasingly tempting and infinitely more accessible. There are websites devoted to cheating methods, both electronic and old-fashioned. As soon as we installed monitoring software on computers that blocked access to Google and Wikipedia, our tech staff started warning us about mirror sites that students use to sneak into forbidden areas of the Internet. They block them as soon as they find out about them, of course, but by then someone has always gotten away with it.

So when I read about the Stuyvesant scandal, I was not surprised in the least. But I was sad: I went to college with several Stuyvesant alumni, and I know the school's stellar academic reputation. What will they do there to root out that attitude from the adolescent consciousness? What can I do here?