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Apodaca: CdM cheaters must face, accept consequences

January 24, 2014|By Patrice Apodaca

Everyone is talking about the Corona del Mar High School cheating scandal.

Since the news broke in December that a group of students, colluding with a private tutor, allegedly used a computer hacking device to alter grades and access tests, a day hasn't gone by when the subject fails to arise among the network of parents I know in Newport Beach.

The story has been picked up by many media outlets, suggesting that instances of academic dishonesty strike a chord among a large audience.


Although most of us are dismayed by the brazenness of the alleged cheating, sadly the news doesn't come as much of a surprise.

Academic cheating is as old as formal education itself, and though the vast majority probably goes undetected, culprits are routinely outed, from middle school to Harvard. The means and methods might change to adapt to new technology and teaching styles, but there will always be those who succumb to the temptation to cut ethical corners.

Just two years ago, I wrote a column in this space after another incident at CdM involving a student who reportedly bought test banks online that contained test questions used by teachers, then shared the information with others.

Data on academic cheating can be alarming. One nationally recognized study, by the Josephson Center for Youth Ethics in Los Angeles, most recently surveyed more than 40,000 public and private high school students in 2010. Of those responding, 59% admitted cheating on a test during the prior year, and 34% said they'd cheated more than twice. One-third said they'd used the Internet to plagiarize.

Some education sources suggest that even findings such as these might underrepresent the full scale of cheating throughout academia.

Yet it's also important for us to understand the environmental context and underlying forces at play when discussing cases of academic dishonesty.

For one thing, the data on cheating must be taken with a large grain of salt. Unearthing the true extent of cheating in schools is notoriously difficult, and survey results are often viewed as unreliable.

In part that's because the very definition of cheating is slippery and open to varying interpretations: Does padding a bibliography count? When does collaboration among students cross an ethical line? If certain questionable behavior isn't explicitly prohibited, can it be justified? How do we keep up with the growing number of ways to access and share information through technology?

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