Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What to Do About Cheating on Assessments in Virtual Learning?

By Thomas R. Guskey — August 30, 2020 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Today’s guest blog is written by Thomas R. Guskey, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky.

As we reopen schools with a return to virtual instruction, teachers remain concerned about how to prevent students from cheating on assessments. To provide meaningful grades, teachers need accurate information on what students have learned. But how can we ensure accurate assessment results if we can’t prevent students from cheating?

To address this problem requires that we first consider why students cheat. Evidence indicates that students don’t cheat on assessments because they’re lazy or unmotivated. In many instances, cheating actually requires more effort than determined preparation. Students cheat on assessments because of the consequences attached to their performance and uncertainty about results. In other words, they fear what might happen if they don’t do well and they’re unsure about how best to prepare.

Students know that teachers generally use assessments for two purposes: (1) to hold students accountable, and (2) to determine students’ grades. Past experience tells them, however, that assessments don’t always align with what teachers emphasize in teaching or what was practiced during instruction. Preparing for assessments, therefore, becomes a guessing game where students try to anticipate what their teachers are likely to require. This uncertainty prompts the question that teachers disdain but students so frequently ask, “Will this be on the test?”

Teachers generally try to discourage or prevent students from cheating on assessments in one of three ways. The first approach is to strictly control the context of assessment administration, especially in virtual environments. Teachers who use this option set a specific time for the assessment, limit the time they allow students to complete the assessment, and try to restrict students’ access to resources that might aid their performance, such as cellphones, books, online materials, or other students. Testing organizations concerned with the validity of assessment results and assessment security use this approach.

A second approach is to increase the severity of consequences for cheating. In using this option, teachers try to heighten students’ fear about what will happen if they are caught cheating. For example, students may face public embarrassment, huge amounts of extra work, penalties that make achieving a passing grade all but impossible, or assignment of a failing grade that cannot be rectified.

A third, potentially more effective but far less frequently used approach, is to change the purpose of assessments. Teachers using this option make assessments about feedback and learning rather than about accountability and grading. They focus on the formative purposes of assessments where results serve primarily to guide students and teachers in making improvements.

In other words, instead of changing the assessment context or altering the severity of consequences, teachers simply take away students’ reasons for cheating. Why cheat on an assessment if that hurts your chances of getting the individualized assistance you need to do well? Some teachers go so far as to make every assessment formative until students get it, and only then do they consider results for summative purposes related to accountability and grading.

The Power of Feedback
Making assessments about feedback and learning requires distinguishing the gradebook from the report card and disabling any gradebook function that calculates a grade before the end of the grading period. This allows teachers to record formative assessment results in the gradebook, even when they don’t count those results as part of students’ report card grades. Families need to know how students perform on formative assessments so they can monitor progress, provide support when needed, and celebrate successes. However, by making the formative-assessment results in the gradebook about feedback, teachers ensure the attention of families and students is on learning rather than on accumulating points to earn a grade.

Focusing on feedback and learning also requires disabling the grade computations built into online grading programs. For example, when students’ report card grades are based on their level of achievement at the end of the grading period, scores from the beginning of the grading period cannot be averaged in when determining those grades. Summative tallies are important, but not until the end of the grading period when teachers will make grade decisions based on the best evidence available at that time related to their grading purpose. This allows students to make mistakes along the way and not worry about irreparable consequences. It also gives students the chance to experiment, be creative, try new ideas and new approaches. If something doesn’t work, they have opportunities to fix things, to recover, and to improve.

Perhaps most important, making assessments about feedback and learning changes the teacher’s role, especially in virtual learning environments. Instead of being an assessment constable, concerned with the sanctity of the assessment process, teachers can become learning facilitators, focused on helping students master important learning goals. Instead of worrying about how to detect cheating and how to prevent students from cheating, teachers can concentrate on helping students use assessment results to improve their learning and reach higher levels of achievement. Taking away students’ reason to cheat not only lessens teachers’ burden in a virtual learning environment, it also allows teachers to do what they really want to do: help their students succeed in learning and gain the many valuable benefits of that success.

Connect with Tom Guskey on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Getty.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)