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Students and teachers describe culture of cheating at North

Two students sit at the back of the science classroom at the same lab table on exam day.  As one struggles with a problem, the other unsheathes her eraser and passes it to the first student.  Little does the teacher know that during this seemingly benign act of exchanging an eraser, two students are scribbling in four-point font the answers to a science test.

This wasn’t the only time students cheated on a science test.  Last spring, a student in Kerry Pross’s AP Chemistry class found a version of the final exam online and shared questions with other students.  However, Pross could not prove that the student cheated, and  the incident went unpunished.

But academic integrity issues at North are more far-reaching than finding a final exam online.  According to a student—uninvolved in with the AP Chemistry cheating incident—who spoke on the condition that her name not be used, students cheat so often that “people talk about it pretty openly among classmates” in a “nonchalant”  manner.  Students frequently copy homework assignments and email labs to each other, while some write answers or formulas in their calculators or on their hands.

The most common form of cheating at North is discreet—it involves students from earlier periods telling students in a later period the content of an exam or an essay question.   AP US History teacher Greg Bugge said he creates different versions of tests and essay questions and distributes different Document Based Questions to each period.  “There are always going to be students who will give morning questions to the afternoon classes,” Bugge said.

The school code of conduct states that “no matter how much pressure to achieve the appearance of academic and personal achievements without their realities, one must never betray oneself or others by giving into that pressure and compromising one’s integrity by cheating, plagiarizing, stealing, or by being cruel to others.”

Despite this, students break the rules on a daily basis and feel no remorse.  “I’ve been told my by parents, ‘All that matters is the grade; I know that even if you get the knowledge, if I don’t see the grade, it doesn’t really matter in the end.’  I’m just doing what I have to do to secure my grade,” said the student.

“WW-P specifically, focuses a lot and puts a lot of pressure on all of their students to get those straight As, and maintain a good GPA, and do extracurriculars, so a lot of the students are overwhelmed with that kind of pressure and feel the need to cheat to do well,” said a second student, who also admitted to cheating on an exam.

But students are well aware of the academic rigor of the courses they are taking.  “I feel like if you think you’re qualified enough to take a higher-leveled class you’d have some more understanding about academic integrity and why you should uphold those standards,” said the second  student.

But this simply isn’t the case.  This rigor does not obligate students to stick to conventional study methods.  Nor does the urge to learn for the sake of learning; instead, students rely on cheating.  The first student claims she does not do “extreme cheating,” simply the “basic stuff.”

“The issue is, why is it so prevalent?  They see it as ‘if I can get away with a grade’ rather than as a source of shame,” said AP Language and Composition teacher Maria Mingrone.  Even in classes that involve literary analysis and individual thought, students frequently try to cheat.  “Some will do the best they can do, or some will get by and won’t consider the consequences on others as a result.”

Some teachers have worked hard to prevent students from cheating—instituting a “no phone policy” on test days, checking palms before students take a test, or clearing calculators before exams.  “I take it personally [when a student cheats].  It hurts me, since the student is disrespecting me.,” AP Biology teacher Holly Crochetiere said.  Crochetiere keeps an eye on her students during class assignments to make sure they don’t copy each other.  But she allows students to use their mobile devices if they need to look up a definition or clarify a concept.  “I really see the value of allowing students to have a phone at their seats,” she said.

Bugge, who also lets students use their phones during class, said he considers cheating a serious problem:  “In the words of one of my colleagues—I’m saying that so as to not plagiarize—do you want your heart surgeon to have cheated on his MCATs?”

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