Do students understand what constitutes cheating in school?

Looking over students
Teacher Susan Oblinger, of Centerville High School in Chantilly, Va., looks over her students during a test in Honors Algebra II, in a file photo.
Stephen J. Boitano/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Academic settings across the country have been hit with cheating scandals among students, even at schools where most students would've passed the tests on their own. But as educator Victor Dorff wrote in a recent op-ed for the L.A. Times, "compounding the problem is the fact that many students aren't fully aware of what constitutes cheating."

Dorff, a math teacher at Palisades Charter High School, joined The Daily Circuit Monday to talk about cheating in schools.

"I think everybody knows in my classes that if they are looking over at someone else's paper during an exam, that's cheating," he said. "To what extent they understand that copying someone else's homework or finding out what the questions are on a test before they take it, those are the things they seem a little fuzzy about."

The problem of understanding cheating often falls on the schools themselves, said David Callahan, author of "The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Do Well."

"Schools don't do a very good job of explaining why cheating is wrong," he said on The Daily Circuit. "You'd think that would be a pretty obvious thing that educational institutions, both high school and colleges, would do, but they don't. If you look at the honor codes that schools have, they rarely actually make a moral case for why cheating is wrong."

Don McCabe, professor at Rutgers University Business School, also joined The Daily Circuit and said he most often sees cheating from students at the very top and very bottom of the class.

"Those in the middle are comfortable taking their B or that C, whatever it may be," he said. "Those at the top are looking for that rank, looking to get into the best colleges... And those at the bottom just want to get out."

For many of our callers and online commenters, cheating happens due to the pressure to do well.

"I would say cheating is extremely prevalent in terms of students sharing homework answers and using solution manuals to complete homework," wrote Mickey Rush on our blog. "Despite the fact that most of us just want to learn interesting things, grades are unfortunately the largest factor in determining our future opportunities."

Jenna, a University of Minnesota graduate, also commented on the blog and said she has cheated.

"Nothing major - writing a few notes somewhere to have during a test for example," she wrote. "And this was always after I had been studying and studying but just couldn't memorize everything that was required for the test. Generally the tests I liked were tests of understanding, not necessarily memorization. I think the 'memorize this and regurgitate it' type test not only encourages cheating but also is less likely to really teach students a subject."

Callahan said teachers can help prevent students' urge to cheat by creating courses that focus on mastery of subjects rather than on grades for exams. Those classes have lower levels of cheating, he said.

"How courses are structured and how teachers teach certainly can make a big difference, he said.

Did you ever cheat in school? Comment on the blog.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.