Assessment

Many Teachers Ignore Cheating, Survey Finds

By Mark Stricherz — May 09, 2001 3 min read
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Nearly half the high school students in a nationwide survey said they believe their teachers sometimes choose to ignore students who are cheating in class. And more than half admitted they had used the Internet to commit plagiarism.

Those were two key findings of a survey of 4,500 high school students from across the country conducted by Donald McCabe, a professor of management at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He has been tracking student-cheating issues at the college level for decades, but recently turned his attention to how high school students are trying to deceive their teachers and how students believe teachers are reacting to such behavior.

According to Mr. McCabe’s survey—which included 14 public and 11 private high schools—47 percent of the students believe teachers sometimes elect not to confront students they know are cheating. Of those students, 26 percent said they believed teachers simply don’t want to be bothered by reporting suspected academic dishonesty.

Mr. McCabe said he expected those findings because similar studies he’s done indicate that about one-third of college students believe their professors look the other way when cheating occurs.

"[Teachers are] afraid of retaliation by the parents,” Mr. McCabe contended. “They’d rather not have to deal with the parents. It’s a hassle.”

Michael S. Josephson, the founder and president of the Marina del Rey, Calif.-based Josephson Institute of Ethics, had similar thoughts about why teachers might refrain from confronting student cheaters.

“They’re afraid they’ll be sued by parents, and that schools don’t have the resources to back them up [in court],” Mr. Josephson said.

What’s more, he said, schools have grown complacent about cheating. Most have not drawn up effective policies to stop the practice in the same aggressive ways they have for other discipline problems, he suggested.

Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 1 million members, said she had “no idea” students perceived that such a large percentage of teachers would ignore cheating.

Ms. Bass wondered “if any of this is an outgrowth of the increased pressure put on schools” because of the standards and accountability movement.

Cyber- Plagiarism

As part of the survey, Mr. McCabe also looked into a problem that more and more teachers are encountering these days: students plagiarizing material from the Internet for school assignments.

In his survey, 54 percent of students admitted to using the Internet to pirate others’ material. However, Mr. McCabe expressed surprise that so many high school students had committed some form of cyber-plagiarism, given that two to three times fewer college students tend to plagiarize, according to previous research he has conducted. Mr. McCabe speculated that high schoolers might be more likely to plagiarize than college students because precollegiate teachers lack the in-depth knowledge of their subject matter and have to teach broader courses than college professors do. “If there’s a [college] course on the Civil War, there’s a pretty good chance the professor knows all the major works on the topic,” he said.

But some high school educators—well aware of how easy it is for students to plagiarize material from the Web—are fighting back. They are using software programs designed to detect the practice. (“Educators Turn to Anti-Plagiarism Web Programs To Detect Cheating,” Dec. 13, 2000.)

The survey confirmed earlier studies in which a vast majority of students admitted to committing academic fraud.

In Mr. McCabe’s survey, a full 74 percent of students admitted that, at least once during the past school year, they had engaged in what Mr. McCabe called serious cheating—using illegal crib notes, copying answers from another student on a test, or helping another student cheat.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 2001 edition of Education Week as Many Teachers Ignore Cheating, Survey Finds

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