Even in a Small School, Students Cheat


Can we stop Cheating?

Pre-arrange the seating.  Spread the students out.  Collect all digital devices.  That was my agenda for the first five minutes of a class period in which I was proctoring a mock IB exam today.  Next, one pencil, one eraser, and one calculator allowed for each student.  I placed the digital devices on my table at the front of the room and distributed the exams. As I handed each student his/her individual exam I did a quick scan of any water bottle labels.  For the next two and a half hours I continued to monitor student behavior hoping not to observe “wandering eye syndrome” or other inappropriate conduct.

Later in the day, my head nearly implodes as I read through student blog posts plagued with “cut and paste” plagiarized sentences.  I suppress an irresistible, explosive urge to collect all the computers and just abort the entire blogging project.   However, after a moment of deliberation, my determination to educate overpowers the desire to take the easier route of abandonment.  I issue a mandate, “no cutting and pasting” which immediately results in a barrage of exceptions. 

“What if I’m cutting and pasting into the blog post and then editing it before I publish?”


 “What if I’m cutting and pasting into a word document and then editing and then pasting into my blog post?”    


“What if it’s just one sentence?”


“What about the url for the bibliography?”

I must admit, I was even tempted to say “no” to this one but agreed that only in the case of the website link was cutting and pasting OK.

Students were permitted to continue researching as I slowly made my way post-by-post through the class.  I interviewed each student discussing the problems with their specific post , especially any suspected plagiarized sections.  All were advised how and instructed to fix the errors.   To work they went, with increased understanding of plagiarism and hopefully better equipped to avoid it.

If you do an Internet search on academic dishonesty, you will discover a myriad of articles, essays and books on the topic.  There are tens of reasons why students cheat, hundreds of methods how to cheat, and several techniques to minimize cheating.  Jayme Gillen, an online learning examiner, argues, “Students who feel part of a school community are less likely to cheat” (1).  Thus, students at our school should be highly unlikely to cheat considering the family-like atmosphere and caring environment.  However, we, like bigger schools,  also deal with the issue of academic honesty ranging from the innocent middle school student still learning what it means to cheat to the high school student who knowingly stows answers in the pencil case or slyly accesses information on a digital device during an exam.

The article “Cheating in School: Why it happens and how to prevent it” (2) is an efficient summary of the many articles I have perused on the subject.  There are two particular points in this article that resonate with me.  The first one, “Provide personal, one-on-one feedback…it is important for students to feel like they are more than just a grade or a GPA” (2) addresses a practice I am trying more and more to implement in my classroom.  The practice of comments only grading (Click here for my post on this a few days ago) appears to not only increase student progress but will also reduce student cheating.  The second point indicates that when students are focused on mastery of standards rather than getting the grade, they are less likely to cheat (2).  I try to implement the practice of focusing on standards in grading my students in hopes of being more accurate in my assessment and reporting.  Apparently, this method of grading might also reduce academic dishonesty. 

Of course the idealist in me would like to inspire students in such a way that they simply have no desire to cheat or better yet, that the learning environment is such that they don’t even think about it. 

I do think that there is less deliberate cheating occurring in the middle school where the emphasis is less on grades.  It seems that once the pressure of grades descends upon the students in high school, the practice of academic dishonesty seems to increase.  Granted, there are other factors as well.  However, the scientist in me would like to pose the question, “How does the elimination of grades affect student cheating in high school students?”  If it could be done in a properly controlled scientific manner, wouldn’t that be a great study?

(1) Gillen, Jayme. "5 reasons why students cheat in school." N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <>.

(2) "Cheating in school: Why it happens and how to prevent it |" Cheating in school: Why it happens and how to prevent it | N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <>.