Educators are facing an explosion of technology-aided cheating. In the 1940s, sneaky students used crumpled scraps of paper called crib sheets, and strained glances at the test next to them. Now the tools of the trade are mobile phones and miniature Bluetooth headsets.
According to Educational Testing Service, the world's largest private nonprofit educational testing and assessment organization, between 75 and 98 percent of college students currently admit to cheating in high school. That is compared to just 20 percent in the 1940s.
Most experts agree that broadly speaking, students all cheat for the same reason. They all want a better grade than they feel they will earn on their own merit. Likewise, punishing a cheater is fairly simple, as schools have long had policies regarding academic integrity. The tricky part is catching a cheater.
“Cheating can be a hard scenario to measure,” said Karla Garner, a Spanish teacher at Bishop Guilfoyle High School in Altoona, PA. “There is 'observed' cheating during test time and group work in the classroom. I had a student one time take the step of setting up an online resource via cell phone. The student set up the website before entering the classroom and then proceeded to try and utilize it for the test.”
Garner explains that “observed” is the type most commonly associated with cheating. It includes copying another student's test paper and hiding a cheat sheet under a test page. She warns, however, that a second, more common type of cheating can be more difficult to prove, and therefore punish.
“There is cheating that can occur during homework, where the student has access to the Internet and other tools to easily obtain answers without having to read the assigned material from which the answer is to be derived,” Garner said. “Since the teacher is not present, these cases are harder to prove but are observed more often.”
While experts warn that increased pressure to do well in school has led to the uptick in cheating, many also feel that it is that same pressure to succeed that can be used to attack the problem. Many schools are implementing “Zero Tolerance” policies with regard to cheating. The penalties for breaking these policies range from failing the assignment to expulsion, all of which are detrimental to academic success.
“Our school has a strict policy on cheating which includes an automatic zero percent grade on the test and disciplinary action from the dean of students,” Garner said. “Therefore, students are least likely to risk the consequences during a test.”