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Uniting Against Cheating

When students began to complain about the level of cheating at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut, principal John J. Brady knew it was time to face the issue directly. Faculty, students, and parents are working together to change the mindset about cheating. Included: Descriptions of one school's attempt to eliminate cheating.

When Staples' High School principal Dr. John J. Brady decided two-and-a-half years ago it was time to acknowledge and address the issue of student cheating, he found some unusual allies: students. An article in the Westport, Connecticut, school newspaper discussed how common cheating had become at the competitive high school in this wealthy suburb. Then some students came to Brady and offered to help end the cheating cycle.

Dr. John J. Brady Principal, Staples High School

The Staples' faculty, students, and community began taking a hard look at cheating and the reasons behind it. Getting the issues out in the open and discussing them are the best way to start cracking down on the problem, Brady told Education World in a recent e-interview.

Education World: What prompted you to tackle the cheating issue head-on? When did you start addressing it?

Dr. John J. Brady: A confluence of events occurred in spring 2002. We had an article published in our student newspaper regarding cheating and the pressure to succeed, national events involving corporate scandal, and a cheating incident on a national exam here at Staples High School. This confluence convinced me that we needed a campaign to address the issue. Subsequently, students came forward with an analysis of cheating that has proven useful in understanding the problem and coming up with solutions.

Students determined that there were three types of cheaters: confirmed, opportunists, and reluctant. They suggested we target our approach to end cheating toward the opportunists and the reluctant cheaters, because the student analysts believe those two groups really don't want to cheat.

EW: Do you think cheating is worse at Staples' High School than other schools?

Brady: No. Compared to national statistics which show between 74 percent and 77 percent of high school students cheat on tests; we are, in fact better off. Our survey data showed fewer than 50 percent of students cheating on tests. We stand out because we have decided this level of cheating is unacceptable. Why or why not? The fact that students have come forward to ask us to intervene to help prevent cheating speaks for itself. Our students have a healthy ethical sense and this has been shown both in the lower-than-national average for cheating and in the strong desire to reduce it even further.

EW: What were some examples of cheating methods you heard about from faculty and students?

Brady: Crib notes glued inside water bottle labels, formulas entered onto calculators, plagiarism. The cheating is fairly low tech.

EW: How do you respond if a student is referred to you for cheating?

Brady: We convene an academic integrity committee. This committee reviews the matter and determines consequences.

EW: What factors fuel cheating at your school? How, if at all, are those factors being addressed?

Brady: Students report that they feel pressure to succeed. This is not a bad thing in itself. What becomes problematic is a drive, on the part of some, to be accepted to the most selective colleges. The grade point average becomes a big factor in college admissions. If competitive students feel others are getting an edge in the college admissions game by cheating, they tell us they feel compelled to follow suit.

"I think the issue needs to be brought out in the open. We have found that by doing so, many people have gotten on board and are now focused on really dealing with the problem instead of denying it exists and ignoring it."

-- Dr. John J. Brady, principal, Staples High School

EW: How have you approached cheating-prevention with parents, students and teachers? What has been the response from those groups?

Brady: Parents with whom I have spoken have seen the issue as a result of intense pressure for acceptance into the most selective colleges. Students, by and large, have admitted the problem, and have asked for assistance to limit it. Some teachers had a hard time believing the extent of the problem, but now are addressing the issue by discussing the ethical implications with their students, designing alternative forms of assessment, and by being more vigilant during exams. Additionally, we have convened an academic integrity subcommittee to look at things like an honor code to see what preventative measures we could adopt.

EW: Do you think elementary and middle school teachers should spend more time discussing the problem of cheating with their students? How should it be addressed at those grade levels?

Brady: I think there is a curricular issue here. We have not infused our curricula with clear ethical standards. We need to look at our lessons through this lens and sharpen our focus on universal values such as honesty and integrity.

EW: What suggestions do you have for other principals seeking to reduce cheating?

Brady: I think the issue needs to be brought out in the open. We have found that by doing so, many people have gotten on board and are now focused on really dealing with the problem instead of denying it exists and ignoring it.

This e-interview with Dr. John J. Brady is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 12/18/2003;
Updated 03/03/2006