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Apodaca: Academic competition partly to blame for cheating

February 04, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

Are we raising a generation of cheaters?

By many indications, it would appear so. We hear stories, seemingly on a daily basis, about kids displaying varying levels of academic dishonesty.

Just last week, three students at Palos Verdes High School made headlines for allegedly hacking into the school's computer network to change grades and find test answers to sell to classmates.

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There have been incidents at local schools as well, including a recent situation at Corona del Mar High School involving a student who had reportedly bought test banks online that contained preapproved, standardized test questions used by teachers. The student then shared the information with others.

Nationwide research supports the notion that we are experiencing a cheating epidemic.

One shocking finding: Experts at the University of Connecticut's Neag School of Education report that nine in 10 students admit to having cheated at some point.

I called Jason Stephens, a UConn associate professor of educational psychology and one of the top authorities on the issue.

Since academic integrity was first studied in the 1960s, Stephens said, the rate of students who acknowledge they've cheated at least once has steadily risen, topping out in the 1990s at about 90%, where it has held steady ever since.

Stephens has found that this alarmingly high ratio holds true across social and economic strata. That is, students cheat whether they are rich or poor, black or white, top achievers or academic strugglers. The reasons and rate of incidents may vary, he said, but the proclivity to cheat is stunningly ordinary.

So, if cheating is as ubiquitous as bad cafeteria food, what are we doing wrong?

First, said Stephens, we must realize that academic dishonesty "is a symptom of something more systemic."

In one sense, cheating is widespread because it's easy. Thanks to the Internet, students have access to vast stores of information, which has made unethical behavior such as plagiarism that much more tempting.

The increased use of electronics in education has also made for some ethically gray areas, and has challenged the abilities of teachers and administrators to keep up. The test banks used by students at CdM High, for example, were readily available online and weren't labeled for teachers only. That was one of the reasons that Principal Tim Bryan decided not to discipline the students.

For now, Bryan said, "prudence tells us not to use the test banks anymore."

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