From NEA Today, Monday, January 14, 2013. See
What Can Be Done About Student Cheating?
By Tim Walker
It's not exactly breaking news that students cheat in school.
Whether it's the student who peeks at crib notes during a test or
another who can't keep his eyes from drifting over to a
classmate's paper - schools have always had to deal with cheaters on
some level. But is cheating merely a nuisance or has it become a
NEA Today recently spoke with Dr. Denise Pope, senior lecturer at the
Stanford University School of Education and co-founder of Challenge
Success, an organization that works with schools and families to
improve student well-being and engagement with learning. Challenge
Success recently released a white paper about cheating in schools that
delves into the reasons why student cheat, misconceptions around the
issue and some successful preventive strategies.
How prevalent is student cheating?
It's very serious. According to many studies, in between 80 and 95
percent percent of high school students admitted to cheating at least
once in the past year and 75 percent admitted to cheating four or more
times. The research goes back 15 years but that's the highest it's
ever been. In the mid-1990s, it was around 60 percent. Cheating
happens in every school.
One bit of encouraging news is that the Josephson Institute of Ethics
released a survey a couple of weeks ago found that students who had
cheated on one exam in the past year dropped quite a bit. We might
re-survey in the spring and hopefully find something similar but it
could just be noise. Too soon to tell.
Who are the students who cheat?
You have the obvious example - students who are struggling and
don't understand the work. One of the big misconceptions, however, is
that it is only these struggling students who cheat, when in fact
studies show that high-achieving students cheat almost as much as
We haven't found that there are discernible gender differences. Many
assume that boys are more likely to cheat than girls because they're
more competitive, but the research actually doesn't support that.
Cheating is also more likely as the student moves through the system
so the problem is more common in middle and high school than in
Is access to technology leading to more cheating?
Not necessarily. Cheating has taken on many new forms. It's not
just wandering eyes or notes copied on a hand, and technology
certainly provides more opportunities without a doubt - plagiarizing
from the Internet, using cell phones during tests, etc. But what we
found is that while these technologies provide many more avenues for
students to cheat, so far its not clear that these technologies has
actually led to an increase in cheating overall
In the Challenge Success white paper, you say students cheat
because they believe that only grades and test scores are valued in
the school, not mastery of the subject. This causes them to
devalue the education they're receiving. Can changing assessment
systems significantly reduce the problem?
Students cheat for a number of reasons. They cheat because everybody
else is doing it, they cheat because they have too much work to do and
not enough time to do it. They're under pressure and they see
cheating around them everywhere - sports stars, movie stars, Wall
Street. These are very powerful cultural factors that influence
students' behavior. So the culture of cheating in our society is
formidable even if you took one single factor out of the equation.
Nonetheless, I think the testing culture in schools plays a role.
There's pressure from the teacher, there's pressure from the
parents. There's a reason they call them "high-stakes." Some
schools fudge the numbers because they know their money depends on
these scores. All this gets conveyed to the student.
Student are less likely to cheat if they believe that their school
values real mastery of a subject, as opposed to an overemphasis on
rote memorization or how you do on a test.
Changing assessments is not easy, but it is one of our top
recommendations. At least schools should use multiple measures,
different ways for students to show what they know. We should be
allowing kids on assignments to produce multiple drafts, to revise and
iterate, which is what happens in the real world anyway. We need to
find new ways to determine and develop student skills.
Does Common Core move schools in that direction?
I'm encouraged by what I hear and read about the new standards'
emphasis on performance-based assessments. They're not complete yet,
but it sounds like it's moving in the right direction. And you do
see more professional development around teaching for subject mastery.
So the trend looks good, but it's going take a while.
Since systemic change can be such a long and arduous process,
what are some of the more immediate potential solutions schools can
take to address the cheating problem?
A major one is the need for schools to dialogue. Cheating is a taboo
subject - many schools just don't want to talk about it. One of
the big misconceptions is that "That's not a problem at our
school!" when in fact it occurs everywhere. And people think if they
don't talk about it, then it won't happen. But admitting cheating
exists in your schools is a big first step and there's strong
evidence that, at least at the college level, honor codes are useful.
There are now a lot honor codes that are being developed at the high
school and middle school level. If you talk about it, admit there's
a problem, come up with a way to show it won't be tolerated, and
have everyone sign onto doing something about it, cheating can be
What can teachers do?
There are a lot of individual strategies that teachers can take to
stop cheating or catch cheating right before it happens, but we focus
on a more a preventive course - creating a climate of caring in the
classroom. Of course teachers care about kids, but students have to
perceive it. Do you know the name of every child in your classroom? Do
you know their interests, do you take the time to answer every
question? If not, that's not a climate of care and not a fertile
ground for learning. We found that students who really believe they
belong in the classroom and really feel teacher support are less
likely to cheat.
How about parents?
Everybody has to be part of the solution. Parents can do a lot of what
we ask of teachers - emphasize high standards for honesty, make it
clear that cheating is unacceptable. Parents can help foster that
sense of belonging in school by encouraging school activities and
other ways to focus on the positive aspects of school. Also,
they should also think about changing how they talk about grades with
their children - especially in the way parents compare their kids to
how others do.
Read the Challenge Success Report on Student Cheating- DOWNLOAD
THIS REPORT AT (SCROLL DOWN TO END AND CLICK):
PHOTO SIDEBAR: Dr. Denise Pope
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244