Why Students Cheat and How to Stop It

Boy Cheating on a Test in a Classroom
Boy Cheating on a Test. SW Productions/Getty Immages

Cheating in schools has reached epidemic proportions. The vast majority of young people (and adults for that matter) believe that cheating is wrong. Yet, by nearly every poll, most young people cheat at least once in their high school career. Why students cheat poses a challenging question for educators and parents. Here are some answers to these questions followed by possible solutions to minimize or eliminate cheating.

Why Students Cheat

Everybody does it: It's disturbing to discover that young people in middle school and high school think that it is acceptable to cheat. But the majority of tests that educators give encourage this behavior. Take multiple-choice tests, for example. They literally invite students to cheat.

Unrealistic academic demands: The public education sector is accountable to the government. State legislatures, state boards of education, local boards of education, unions, and countless other organizations demand action to correct the real and imagined failings of the nation's public education system. As a result, students must take standardized tests so that officials and parents can compare one school system to another nationally and at the state level.

In the classroom, these tests mean that a teacher must achieve the expected results or better, or she will be viewed as ineffective, or worse, incompetent. So instead of teaching students how to think, she teaches them how to pass standardized tests.

The temptation to plagiarize: Years ago cheaters lifted whole passages from an encyclopedia and called them their own. That was plagiarism. Plagiarism's current incarnation is even easier: The students simply points and clicks his way to the website with the relevant information, copies and paste it, reformats it somewhat, and passes it off as his own.

Possible Solutions

Schools need to have zero-tolerance policies concerning cheating. Teachers must be vigilant and alert to all of the newer forms of cheating, particularly electronic cheating. Smartphones and computer tablets are powerful tools for cheating. Fighting the tools that make it tempting to cheat can be challenging, but if the stakeholders are willing to take the necessary steps, they can help reduce cheating.

Teachers: The best solution is to make learning exciting and absorbing. Teachers should make the learning process student-centric. They should allow students to buy into the process and empower them to guide and direct their learning. Teachers can encourage creativity and critical thinking as opposed to rote learning. There are some specific steps teachers can take:

  1. Model integrity, no matter what the cost.
  2. Don't assume young people know why cheating is wrong, both from a personal and corporate perspective.
  3. Enable students to understand the meaning and relevance of an academic lesson.
  4. Foster an academic curriculum that perpetuates real-world applications of knowledge.
  5. Don't force cheating underground—let students know that you understand the pressures and, at least initially, be reasonable in responding to violations.

Parents: Parents have a huge role to play in combating cheating. That's because children mimic almost everything parents do. Parents must set the right sort of example for their children to emulate. Parents must also take a genuine interest in their children's work. They should ask to see everything and anything and discuss everything and anything. An involved parent is a powerful weapon against cheating.

Students: Students must learn to be true to themselves and their own core values. They should not let peer pressure and other influences steal their dreams. Parents and educators should emphasize that if students are caught cheating, there will be serious consequences.

Also, this might seem simplistic, but students need to understand why cheating is wrong. Dr. Thomas Lickona, a developmental psychologist and education professor, defined a few points to emphasize to students about cheating. Lickona says that parents and teachers should explain to students that cheating:

  • Will lower self-respect because you can never be proud of anything you earned by cheating.
  • Is a lie because it deceives other people into thinking you know more than you do.
  • Violates the teacher's trust and undermines the whole trust relationship between the teacher and his class.
  • Is unfair to all people who aren't cheating.
  • Will lead to more cheating in other situations later in life—perhaps even in personal relationships.

Foiling Electronic Cheating

When essay topics are generic, there seems to be more opportunity to cheat. By contrast, when the essay topic is specific to class discussions and/or unique to the course's stated goals, it becomes more difficult for students to go to web sources to lift material or download papers.

When the teacher expects the paper's development to follow a step-by-step process that requires students to document their topic, thesis, outline, sources, rough draft, and final draft, there are fewer opportunities to cheat. If there are regular in-class writing assignments, a teacher can come to know the students' writing style, allowing him to recognize plagiarism when it occurs.

There are a few steps teachers can take to combat and prevent plagiarism and other electronic cheating:

  1. Use a plagiarism detection service like Turnitin.com to catch plagiarism.
  2. Forbid the use of smart devices in exam rooms.
  3. Secure the grade program and database.
  4. Look for crib notes anywhere and everywhere.

Teachers need to be vigilant. Trust but verify. They must be aware of the possibilities for cheating which are all around them.

Sources

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski