Monday, June 12, 2006

Their Cheating Hearts

This story from Victorville, California, illustrates how widespread cheating has become in our academic culture:
Cheating is not a new concept. But the technology being used by student cheaters — and by educators busting the cheaters — is evolving.

Local educators say the No. 1 form of cheating they see is plagiarism. “Technology is wonderful and I am glad to have it, but it does open up other challenges,” Victor Valley Community College Dean of Vocational Education Nick Parisi said.

College officials say it’s rampant, but they are equipped with the tools to catch the cheater in the act — easily.

“We have incredible software,” Victor Valley Community College President Dr. Patricia Spencer said.

By using software like, teachers simply take the students’ paper and run it through the program. It instantly identifies phrases from published writers, highlights it, and spits it back out clearly showing the teacher what parts of the paper were plagiarized.

And the penalties for plagiarism can be fierce.

Some college professors have it written right into their class syllabus — get caught plagiarizing and you get an “F” in the class,

“The best way to get the message across is to have that type of policy,” Parisi said.

All local high schools have some policy on cheating. It can mean an “F” on the paper, a parent conference, a lower citizenship grade, or any combination. However, there are times when administrators, for whatever reason, fail to properly punish those involved.

According to a 2002 report by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, levels of cheating, stealing and lying by high school students have risen at an alarming rate. Of the 12,000 high school students surveyed, 74 percent admitted to cheating on an exam at least once during that year — a 13 point jump from 10 years earlier in 1992.

“Cheating is a problem at all school levels,” Serrano Principal Sharon Schlegel said. At her school students are made aware very early that they face stiff penalties if caught cheating.

“Here they know if they get caught, they get a zero on the test as well as lowering their citizenship grade and parents are contacted,” Schlegel said.

And while plagiarism may be the most common form of cheating at the high school level also, it’s not the only kind.

“We still have kids that cheat the old-fashioned way too,” Victor Valley High School Principal Elvin Momon said.

School officials say they deal with everything from students using crib notes, gum wrappers, writing answers on their hands and arms, copying from one anthers papers and now with technology — text messaging.

“If one students takes the exam on first period they text their friend who has the same test in third period with the answers,” Schlegel said. “We’ve had an incident of that.”

Momon said with that type of technology the challenge to teachers becomes actually catching them in the act.

“I don’t know how legislation approved it. It creates a lot of problems,” Momon said about cell phones being allowed on campus by law.
In our junior high school, cheating is considered a minor disciplinary infraction that does not warrant a student being sent to the office.

Interestingly, parents and educators teach children that cheating is wrong and yet from presidents to home-run sluggers, the mass culture celebrates cheating and cheaters.

A definite mixed message for the kids.
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