“My Kid’s Been Cheating? No Way!”…But What If It’s True?

By: Jason Robinovitz | Last Updated: June 15, 2021

Based on our personal and corporate experiences, the data, and published statements from students, it’s highly likely that the correct answer is that more students are cheating than we realize. The perfect crime needs motive, means, and opportunity, and there’s never been a more perfect confluence of the three relatives to cheating, thanks to COVID-19.

More often than ever before, students are learning at home – without proper supervision. This is one of the biggest reasons why students cheat on exams, especially digital tests.

The answer to “So, what?” is that the act of cheating raises important issues for students, the vast majority of whom will be back in classroom environments next fall and no longer able to use the opportunities for cheating in online testing environments.

Personal and Corporate Experiences with Cheating:

Adolescent relatives of one of Score’s executives bragged about cheating on their tests all year. Meanwhile, earlier this year, one of Score’s high school students turned in a paper that he clearly hadn’t written, but didn’t set off any triggers on our plagiarism filters.

When questioned, the student swore that he’d written the paper and that it wasn’t a product of plagiarism. After additional questions, he became flummoxed and spouted out nonsensical gibberish to explain himself, while remaining steadfast in his claim that he hadn’t cheated. Finally, when asked for the meaning of one of the words in the title of his paper, he was stumped and finally admitted that he’d cheated.

We might not always understand why students cheat on exams, but we can study what causes students to cheat on exams. Let’s take a look at the data.

male student cheating on paper

The Data: What Causes Students to Cheat on Exams?

According to Scott McFarland, CEO of ProctorU, which provides proctoring to test administrators, despite trained proctors watching test-takers and checking their IDs, instances of cheating are up. Before Covid-19 forced millions of students online, his firm’s proctors caught people cheating on less than 1 percent of the 340,000 exams it administered from January through March of last year. However, when the number of exams it supervised from April through June jumped to 1.3 million, the “caught cheating” rate rose above 8 percent — an 800% increase, even with trained proctors present. And that led McFarland to remark, “We can only imagine what the rate of inappropriate testing activity is when no one is watching.”

It’s pretty clear that nobody was watching, or the watching was wholly inadequate: as reported in a December 2020 Wall Street Journal blog, “One mother in Southern California said that both of her teenage sons, who had never cheated in person, did so recently in remote school.” In that same wsj.com blog, Colleen Morris, a high school English teacher, is quoted as saying, “Some parents have told me that their children have had to “collaborate” with friends on assignments and tests because they feel it’s the only way they are learning much this year.”

While much of the information on students cheating deals with college and high school students, the actual problem is far more widespread. The wsj.com blog also states that

There is evidence that much younger students could also be cheating—or at least getting help from parents. Curriculum Associates, a provider of online curricula and assessments for more than eight million elementary and middle-school students nationwide, analyzed diagnostic assessment data and found remote students at all grade levels were scoring higher in reading than students in previous years. Some of the age groups also scored higher in math.

“The problem with saying cheating is acceptable here is [that] it becomes an ethical slippery slope, where cheating on one exam may lead to cheating on other exams or in the workplace,” said Steven Mintz, a professor emeritus at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo who writes an ethics blog. “Cheating can become habitual. With kids, you’re trying to develop good habits so they can apply them to later situations in life.”

student cheating on testFurther, according to the wsj blog, and consonant with this theme,

The remote school has made certain kinds of cheating easier than ever, leading students who may never have considered cheating before the pandemic to google answers, text friends or peek at their notes. The difficult situations students face this year raise a question: Is it ever OK to cheat? Should the normal rules apply in a year that has been anything but normal?

“I know a lot of kids who will FaceTime during tests and take them together, or kids who have a Google tab open during tests,” said Lucie Flagg, a high-school senior in Wexford, Pa. “I think everyone knows it’s probably not right, but it’s also the easy way out. A lot of kids are just done with remote learning and have no motivation to put in the work this year.”

Yet another wsj.com blog post, this one from May of this year, echoes that theme, stating that “Cheating at School Is Easier Than Ever—and It’s Rampant.” The post goes on to say,

A year of remote learning has spurred an eruption of cheating among students, from grade school to college. With many students isolated at home over the past year—and with a mass of online services at their disposal—academic dishonesty has never been so easy.

Websites that allow students to submit questions for expert answers have gained millions of new users over the past year. A newer breed of site allows students to put up their own classwork for auction. “Consider hiring me to do your assignment,” reads a bid from one auction site. “I work fast, pay close attention to the instructions, and deliver a plagiarism-free paper.”

In an August 2020 blog post titled, Another problem with shifting education online: cheating,The Hechinger Report, a national nonprofit newsroom that reports solely on education, reported that businesses are facilitating cheating in exams:

Online tests have also meant a booming business for companies that sell homework and test answers, including Chegg and Course Hero. Students pay subscription fees to get answers to questions on tests or copies of entire tests with answers already provided. The tests are uploaded by other students who have already taken them, in exchange for credits, or answers are quickly provided by “tutors” who work for the sites.

For $9.95 a month, Chegg is offering a new service that provides fast answers to math problems submitted by smartphone camera, step-by-step solution included. Snap a pic, get the answer.

cheating on test with phone

Students’ Statements about Cheating in Exams

A research report titled Academic Dishonesty and Testing: How Student Beliefs and Test Settings Impact Decisions to Cheat in the Journal of the National College Testing Association 2020/Volume 4/Issue 1, the study’s authors quoted some of the 734 students surveyed as stating,

“In our society today, grades are more important than knowledge. We all must compete with this so in order to keep up, most resort to cheating.”

“I will use any resource I can to succeed if I can get away with it. I would be an idiot not to."

“When one has the opportunity to advance their standing, one takes it. It is cliché to say “Everyone else is doing it,” but this cliché is, in fact, truth. When your direct competitors and peers take advantage, you really have to do the same to keep up.”

“The rules for “cheating” weren’t specified specific enough. For example, there’s no such rule [that states] writing a formula on your hand is illegal.”

“If you are under supervision of proctor or professor, then it is unacceptable to “cheat”. If you are at home, it’s fair game.”

“Anyone would do anything they can get away with if they are desperate enough and if it means succeeding. If you are an instructor and you give an exam then expect at least some level of dishonesty.”

The point is that it’s highly likely that your children have been cheating on online tests and assignments in which their knowledge – and not that of their peers and/or internet sources – was to be assessed, and they’re not going to be able to do that nearly as readily as has been possible in the recent remote testing environment.

Bearing in mind that students giving incorrect answers is the single most important measure in understanding what they don’t know and, thus, what they need to learn, there’s something you can do: Have the students use the summer school months to discover and address areas of weakness in the direct presence of an instructor or tutor.

How Score At The Top Helps Your Kid Adopt the Right Attitude

We may not know what causes students to cheat on exams in certain situations – but we can work to install the right values in them upfront. A big part of preventing poor or immoral behavior is spending time crafting a strong sense of work ethic in children and teens.

Additionally, another way to prevent cheating on exams is to make sure the student is fully prepared. If a student has a firm grasp of the test’s subject matter, then they are less likely to cheat. This may require a little extra tutoring outside of class.

If you have questions about why students cheat on exams, or you want to schedule tutoring for your student, contact Score At The Top today. We’ll be happy to help.

Topics: Cheating Virtual School

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