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Facts on Cheating in Schools

by Barbara Bean-Mellinger

Cheating in schools isn't a new phenomenon. A generation ago, however, cheating meant looking over a schoolmate's shoulder or passing a note on the sly. Today's overabundance of technology makes it easy to cheat in a variety of ways. Just what is considered cheating isn't always clear, either. Meanwhile, the pressure to achieve has never been greater. Stressed students are filled with anxiety over grades and test scores, which they feel can determine their futures.

A Widespread Problem

In a 2010 study of 43,000 U.S. public and private high school students, the Josephson Institute of Ethics found that 59 percent admitted to cheating on a test in the last year. About one-third said they had used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment. Cheating continues in college, too, with prestigious schools such as the Air Force Academy and Harvard uncovering cheating scandals. The problem isn't unique to the U.S., either. Studies and reports have found similar behavior in schools worldwide. In June of 2013, Chinese students and parents rioted after unbiased proctors were brought in to monitor university entrance exams. Cheating is so prevalent that parents said preventing it would put their students at a disadvantage.

Culture of Cheating

Many students say cheating is part of normal societal behavior. In school, they say, everyone does it, so they're at a disadvantage if they don't. One reason cheating is rampant is that students don't think they'll be caught, and for the most part they aren't. Some behaviors -- such as collaborating with others on an individual assignment or copying someone else's homework -- aren't viewed as "cheating" in their minds. Students also say they see the behavior mirrored in society, from elected officials to company CEOs. The message they receive is that success is what matters, however it's achieved.

Pressured to Excel

Students who feel pressured to maintain straight A's and get into top colleges say they cheat to get high grades at any cost. Those who are overscheduled with activities have little time to complete their assignments. The sometimes excessive focus on testing and test scores in schools today may give students the message that scores are the most important measure of their education. If they fear they won't perform well, they may be tempted to cheat.

Enabled by Technology

According to a study conducted by Jeffrey A. Roberts and David M. Wasieleski at Duquesne University, the more technology students use, the more likely it is that cheating will occur. With cell phones, it's simple for students to compare notes on an assignment or share ideas, even during a test. Accessing the Internet is easy from any number of handheld devices today. Even graphic calculators, which students use during math tests, can be filled with data used for cheating.

Ways to Reduce Cheating

Home and school environments need to send the message that learning for learning's sake is more important than grades. Parents should watch for signs of cheating -- children who are stressed and anxious about grades may be inclined to cheat; a child who didn't study for a test but comes home with an A may have cheated. Teachers and schools need to clarify what constitutes cheating and be vigilant about looking for it. Promoting honesty and emphasizing that success earned through hard work is most rewarding can turn the tide from cheating to achieving.

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