A Peek Into Academic Dishonesty

Stephanie Liu and Akira Nannen, Copy Editor and Staff Writer

// From writing on the palms of their hands to hiding answers on the insides of their calculator cases, students never fail to come up with clever ways to cheat. 

   Students may be tempted to cheat to improve scores on tests or avoid doing homework. The intense academic environment at Acalanes may be a factor into some students’ decision to work dishonestly. 

  To combat student cheating, the administration created specific guidelines prohibiting the practice. 

   The Acalanes Student Handbook divides academic dishonesty into four categories: cheating, unauthorized collaborating, plagiarizing, and unauthorized publishing of school materials. Further subsections of “cheating” include copying other students’ work, falsifying academic work, and having a parent make major changes to student work. 

   Blueprint interviewed several students who admitted to cheating. Blueprint is withholding the identities of Student 1, Student 2, Student 3, and Student 4 to protect their academic reputations. 

   “Occasionally in math, during quizzes or sometimes during tests, me and my friends look at each other’s papers if we’re confused on a problem. Sometimes in science class, I may send a picture of my homework or a friend might send a picture of theirs if either of us are confused,” Student 1 said, admitting to both cheating and unauthorized collaboration. 

   Students who frequently cheat employ certain strategies to ensure they will not get caught by teachers. 

   “I have a solid strategy when the teacher is not paying attention. I may cast a few glances at the other person’s test sheet, but if I’m sitting next to someone who’s not very intelligent, I usually don’t copy them,” Student 4 said. “I consider everything, you know? I need to make my choices smart. I need an A.” 

   In an anonymous survey of randomly selected Acalanes students, 57% of students reported cheating at least once. Yet, only 53% of students observed a cheating problem at Acalanes.

   The survey found that students primarily cheat after forgetting to study for a test, while sheer laziness provided the second most common motive. Other students explained that they cheated since they struggled to find time to study or, sometimes, because they dismissed certain classes as unimportant.

   Desire and pressure to attain good grades and receive acceptance into highly competitive universities underlies most cheaters’ academic dishonesty. 

   “The belief that you have to get into a top tier college and have near perfect grades and test scores contributes to an unmanageable amount of stress and anxiety for many young adults,” local psychologist David Matz said. 

   Although many teachers try to prevent cheating by walking around and observing students taking tests, some students cheat regardless of their teacher’s level of observance. But teachers often observe defined patterns of incorrectness.    

   “The general way I find it is when they get the same wrong answer. They’ll make the same kind of incorrect statement, or they copy their friend’s work word for word,” European history teacher Ed Seelenbacher said. 

   For some classes, students submit written work to websites like TurnItIn, which scans sources and texts on the internet to check for plagiarism.

     “Plagiarizing papers and essays without appropriate attribution is another big way students  cheat,” comparative government teacher Joseph Schottland said. Although Students 1-4 did not admit to plagiarizing, teachers report that they deal with plagiarizers every year. 

   English teacher Ken Derr has seen entire student essays ripped off the Internet. While technology may have made copying easier in the past, online services are now very effective at detecting plagiarism. 

    “TurnItI+n would be the number one thing to detect plagiarism in essays,” Schottland said. 

   Student 1 expressed similar thoughts about TurnItIn. 

   “With the new technology it’s getting harder to plagiarize,” Student 1 said. 

   Despite Turnitin deterring many would be plagiarizers, Associate Principal Mike Plant reported already having dealt with three cases of plagiarism as of the end of October. 

    In addition to plagiarism of essays, Plant also dealt with two official cases of students copying homework from friends and classmates. Besides these instances formally reported by teachers, Plant noted that students regularly copy the work of others during break, academy and lunch. 

   “Even at lunch when I’m walking around I see people copying homework from their friend,” Plant said. 

   Despite AUHSD’s clear policies regarding academic dishonesty, only 30% of students who said they cheat reported getting caught.

   Students who cheat may face a wide range of punishments, depending on the offense. Among other consequences, students may have to meet with an administrator or counselor, lose credit for an assignment, be assigned detention, and the offense could appear on the student’s permanent record depending on severity.  

   If a student has not completed work or does not feel prepared for an assessment, instead of resorting to academic dishonesty, a student can always contact their teacher, an administrator, or counselor to find a better solution for the issue. 

   “If you feel trapped in a position where you feel you only option is to cheat, I would hope there’s an adult on campus that you can go talk to that could help you with that problem,” Plant said. “Cheating is never okay, but also cheating is never a necessity. There are ways around that.”

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