Cheating or collaboration? Do students really not know the difference?

crcted.0920 (Medium)A reader sent me this note about cheating and asked that I put the issue before the Get Schooled blog readership:

I am wondering if you have done much on student cheating? I have read about teacher cheating but don’t remember anything on the student side of the equation.

Now that my child is in high school, I am amazed at what online resources are available at the click of the button. I am aware of an instance where a teacher used an online study guide as a test….most of the students used it (teacher was unaware it was public domain) and received 100 percent on the test.  Smart on the students’ part, I’d say yes. Lazy on the teacher’s part, I’d say yes.

I’ve had some discussions with parents. Teachers don’t change their test, and the students share what’s on the test with their classmates who have not taken yet taken it.

That is cheating. But the parents I’ve spoken to call it “collaboration” and see nothing wrong with it. Teachers are aware it goes on but say it is too difficult to change the test.

Anyway…. Your readers always have interesting comments and I would enjoy reading some of their thoughts.

I want to add another example of “cheating” shared with me recently. According to a parent, students in a high school class discovered that their teacher graded multiple choice/bubble-in-the-answer tests by putting a grid on top on each answer sheet. The grid revealed whether the student had colored in the right bubble.

But some students filled in both possible answers, which sounds like a ploy that could be easily detected.

And it was. However, while they lost points on the test, the double bubblers dodged a cheating charge because the teacher never specifically prohibited them from filling in more than one bubble. Apparently, their cause was championed by a parent attorney.

Cheating and defenses of it appear to be rampant, even in the best schools in America. Harvard recently experienced its largest cheating scandal ever; half of the nearly 300 students in an Introduction to Congress class were suspected of cheating on a take-home final last year.

Students justified their collaboration on the exam, saying that any similarities in test responses were because they shared lecture notes and conferred with one another and the teaching assistants.

In defense of the student conduct, Slate’s technology columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote:

In this case, it’s the test’s design, rather than the students’ conduct, that we should criticize. In allowing students to consult a wide variety of sources, the Harvard exam was looking to assess something deeper than how well they could memorize and recall facts. Judging from some leaked questions, the test seemed to be designed to measure how students could think about some of the contradictions inherent in American government. (An essay question began, “Do interest groups make Congress more or less representative as an institution?”) But if you want to determine how well students think, why force them to think alone?

Harvard didn’t agree, forcing many of the students to withdraw from the university for a period of two to four terms. (Here is a good Harvard Crimson piece on the internal debate over the university’s actions )

According to The New York Times:

Harvard would not say how many students had been disciplined for cheating on a take-home final exam given last May in a government class, but the university’s statements indicated that the number forced out was around 70. The class had 279 students, and Harvard administrators said last summer that “nearly half” were suspected of cheating and would have their cases reviewed by the Administrative Board. On Friday, a Harvard dean, Michael D. Smith, wrote in a letter to faculty members and students that, of those cases, “somewhat more than half” had resulted in a student’s being required to withdraw.

Administrators said that on final-exam questions, some students supplied identical answers, down to, in some cases, typographical errors, indicating that they had written them together or plagiarized them. But some students claimed that the similarities in their answers were due to sharing notes or sitting in on sessions with the same teaching fellows. The instructions on the take-home exam explicitly prohibited collaboration, but many students said they did not think that included talking with teaching fellows.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

61 comments Add your comment

Anonymous in DeKalb

March 19th, 2013
1:40 am

The self-righteousness with which these students and parents assert a “right” to cheat has its origin in the anti-authoritarian movement of the 1960s, and the ongoing secularization of our culture by the education establishment and the mass media.

Rights and responsibilities once recognized as equal and essential elements of democracy—are no longer.

Cindy Lutenbacher

March 19th, 2013
5:47 am

I’d place the source of such mindsets elsewhere, Anonymous in DeKalb, but I’ll save that response for another time.

I have two immediate thoughts. One is that most tests in my experience seem to be incredibly poorly designed–aimed for retrieval of information, rather than seeking evidence of true knowledge or critical thinking. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I remember almost nothing from all those tests designed for information spewing–unless the information is something I’ve actually used in my life. My best estimate is that I’ve used about 1/100 of one percent of the things I was required to regurgitate onto tests in high school and college. Such pathetic and meaningless “tests” don’t engage or accurately assess students and what they can do.

That said, I’m appalled at the attitude of parents and students–that using someone else’s work or that passing along or receiving old tests is perfectly fine. I’m saddened by the attitude and work ethic of teachers who don’t work harder to create authentic assessments that are notoriously tough to sidestep with strategies of cheating.


March 19th, 2013
6:25 am

I give tests to determine if students have done the required reading and retained what they read. For these tests, they must record their answers on a Scantron card. When I want to test their critical thinking ability, I give them essay response tests. Both serve a valid purpose.

As for cheating, it happens all the time. Sometimes it is easy to detect, sometimes not. When I detect it my students receive a ZERO for the assignment. If it happens a second time, they receive an F in the course.

Learning happens all the time as well. Sometimes it is easy to detect, sometimes not. When and if it happens is largely the responsibility of the student.


March 19th, 2013
6:33 am

A “take home” final exam? Really? Really? And they are “shocked” that half the class cheated? Give me a break! As to copying information verbatim from the Internet. That’s no different from copying verbatim from books when one had to do research the old fashioned way. We need to teach reading and critical thinking skills, and, at the same time come down like a hammer on cheaters. After a few students were expelled for cheating, it would be curtailed. You’re never going to get rid of cheating. There will always be the wise guy that thinks he can beat the system and is just lazy. But this wholesale mass cheating would stop.

bootney farnsworth

March 19th, 2013
7:03 am

they know. on the whole, they just don’t care.

Ethics Advisor

March 19th, 2013
7:12 am

The irony of cheating themselves has not occurred to these students who blatantly abuse this type of “just plain wrong” behavior with the support of their parents; again teachers are blamed for one more parental excuse for the coddled, entitiled children we have spawned in the last thirty years. Teaching to take a test is also not the answer.

Education needs a real “do over” where teachers are allowed to teach instead of comply with beaurecratic demands for excessive paperwork to prove that Johnny was taught to read, write and learn math.etc. It is the parents responsibility to teach their own children the desire to achieve and learn, not the governments!

I am not a teacher!

Pride and Joy

March 19th, 2013
7:27 am

What Cindy Lutenbacher said — I completely agree.
Tests are poorly designed by teachers. Retrieval of factoids type tests are easy to create and easy to grade. Real learning is more difficult to measure.
Case in point — almost all of us can name the person who invented the cotton gin, Eli Whitney. Yet, I’ll bet none of us were taught why the cotton gin was so important to the US — because it INcreased slavery.
The gin (engine) made it unnecessary to pick the seeds out of the cottoon fibers; without the need for manual labor to remove seeds, the cotton was more profitable.
With more profits, more people wanted to produce cotton. Here’s the kicker — manual labor was still required to grow and harvest the cotton, which created a need for more slaves. With a large slave population our nation’s politics and values was shaped accordingly.
Now THAT is the reason the cotton gin was important — because it increased slavery and all the consequences that went along wtih it.
Yet, most teachers continue to teach “Who invented the cotton gin?” Eli Whitney.
Check out.
Some education system we have here.

An Accidental Professor

March 19th, 2013
7:30 am

@ DeborahinAthens- You said, “A “take home” final exam? Really? Really? And they are “shocked” that half the class cheated?”.

I give a take home final exam in all of my classes. I also expect students to incorporate outside sources and submit their papers through a plagiarism detection software program. Do student collaborate with each other? Probably. But studies have shown that is how people learn from each other. By requiring students to complete their essays outside of class I can demand a high quality final product that demonstrates mastery of the material as well as critical thinking.

I do not think the test design was the issue at Harvard rather a culture that does not see cheating as an problem (i.e. cheating on income taxes, big banks, etc.).

Clutch Cargo

March 19th, 2013
7:32 am

Neither side really comes to this debate with clean hands. When teachers and administrators do “whatever it takes” (actual slogan at my kids school a few years back) to game the system and whistleblowers are the first ones fired in scandals,it’s no wonder that kids believe that you have to be just a little “clever” to win the game.Add to that the self important blowhards that mock their faith and character values (learned during their formative years in Sunday School) as “fairy tales about Jesus riding dinosaurs” and you’ve got a recipe for …Well, you’ve got what you’ve got.

Can’t just blame the parents on this one,guys.


March 19th, 2013
8:02 am

“Retrieval of factoids type tests are easy to create and easy to grade. Real learning is more difficult to measure.”
Retrieval of facts are important, what is “real” learning.

Why teach American History? Why is the fact that George Washington was our 1st President important? If “real” learning is just the importance of what George Washington did…fight for our freedom…then why don’t we just have philosophical discussions in our high schools?

There are lots of “facts” to remember when actually writing a computer program. There are different computer programming languages that can be used. Why teach an actual computer language? Students can have a discussion around the topic that problems that can be solved with a computer can be solved by any using any computer language. Aren’t specifics facts needed to be remembered? Some students put in the time to do so and should be rewarded for their effort, others will not put in the effort needed to acquire – KNOWLEDGE.

Comes down to the point that most of us learn when we start to work. Those that MANAGE those that DO THE WORK are the ones that get the most rewards/recognition and the higher salaries!

I can’t tell you how many BOSSES take credit for the work of those they “manage”, while they themselves are not actually able to do that work themselves!

So these students may be learning a valuable lesson…actually learning and developing the skills to DO A JOB, is not as lucrative as managing those that do!


March 19th, 2013
8:10 am

Here is an interesting excerpt from Penelope Trunk’s homeschool blog that speaks to this issue. She is a huge advocate of homeschooling. This is her take on cheating in school:

“3. School discourages collaborative instincts
The work world is collaborative, and people who are most adept at seeking help and finding answers are the ones who succeed. But in school, teachers encourage the exact opposite. Reddit is a community that is so highly esteemed that President Obabma popped on for an hour to answer random questions. Yet teachers are telling students to stay away. Here is a “please refrain from contributing to homework help” thread. And here is the Reddit community making fun of the idea that seeking help online is forbidden.

In fact, the whole idea of cheating is completely foreign in the work world. What constitutes cheating in school is called efficiency at work. Why would you do something yourself when someone else has already done it? It’s intuitive to work together, and to kids, who learn primarily from copying others for the first years of their lives, it’s jarring when a teacher tells you that collaboration is rule breaking.”


Grob Hahn

March 19th, 2013
8:32 am

Once again we find a way to demonize children and parents when they take advantage of a cavernous loophole created by a lazy teacher. First of all, we are dealing primarily with children. Children can’t be expected to act like adults. Seems like a simple enough lesson doesn’t it?

So why attempt to hold the children to an ethical standard that the teacher in this example isn’t willing to follow? Cribbing a canned test from the web? How can it possibly apply to the lessons this teacher delivered on the subject? Nothing is so generic that a teacher should be able to CHEAT like this. I say cheat because the teacher should be taking the time to write their own tests so the lesson is properly measured. Using a test from Google doesn’t measure anything that was taught correctly.

It’s as foolish as using a Ford manual to repair a Chevrolet! No freakin wonder the CHILDREN felt compelled to seek answers from a global source. And no freakin wonder they found it!!!!!


March 19th, 2013
8:35 am

Today’s students have grown up seeing their politicians tell one lie after another. And, having watched thousands of TV commercials, they’ve been numbed by the lies, half-truths and exagerations these messages deliver.

So, when your country’s political and economic system is built on a solid foundation of lies, why would anyone be surprised that students have no qualms about cheating?

Mother of 2

March 19th, 2013
8:37 am

My son attends a high performing high school in North Fulton County. Cheating takes place regularly and the teachers are well aware of it. Some teachers take measures to curtail the cheating and others simply do not. Every student does not cheat at the school, even though they know they can get away with it in some classes. The students who cheat are boosting their GPA in an effort to get into UGA and GA Tech, rarely top tier schools outside the state. I’m not sure how they plan to stay in these colleges once they arrive – perhaps they will buckle down.

I’ve heard more than one parent say that if a teacher is too lazy to create a new test or stop the cheating it is that teacher’s own fault for the students’ behavior. There is so much pressure to perform at this high school, parents get sucked into the competitive nature and encourage the students to take whatever steps are necessary to attain high grades. Our administrators are competing with other schools to see who can get the most graduates into UGA and GA Tech. This culture is difficult to change, but certainly not impossible; it needs start with the adults.

Google "NEA" and "union"

March 19th, 2013
8:48 am

Some among us talk down the importance of achievement testing. Embarrassed by stubbornly poor results they deride achievement tests as “paper & pencil” exercises which prove nothing and waste teachers’ time.

Any wonder, then, that students might develop the same attitude toward all testing?

One of the tactics of the anti-reform, anti-choice faction to to deride achievement tests as “paper-and-pencil” “high-stakes”

Real World

March 19th, 2013
8:54 am

Everyone involved bears responsibility for the cheating. Teachers need several tests if they teach different sections of the same subject each day. Student’s who take the test first and then “collaborate” with other students are not only cheating but also hurting themselves if the other students score better. Parents need to teach ethics to their children—something that is sorely lacking in the age of the internet. Parents are responsible for teaching ethics to their children–and reinforcing those lessons throughout the school years of their children. Teach the difference between right and wrong, truth and lies, and to recognize cheating. Most parents these days seem to be interested in good grades and not learning and thinking and do not care who their students achieve the grades.
And a lawyer who says a teacher was wrong in not saying only one mark per line on a scantron test?? Not enough words to describe the lack of ethics and personal responsibility there. Typical of many people today–always looking for a loophole and ignoring what is right.
Without strong ethics and a sense of responsibility. today’s students are being set up for failure in the real world. (Except, of course, if they enter politics.)
Cheating is cheating. As Shakespeare said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.


March 19th, 2013
9:04 am

Wow, now we’re making excuses for kids cheating. Really? People learn best when collaborating with others? Like on a test?

And we wonder why people are so stupid in this country.

Ex teaching assistant

March 19th, 2013
9:14 am

This sounds like a problem I had when teaching a polymer chemistry lab to undergrads 20 years ago (pre internet). The students were required to do pre lab home work + lab reports. The lab reports had to describe what they did, and why. The actual lab work (and some calculations) were done in class. Since this was a lab (vs. lecture class), collaboration was expected, but all work had to be shown.
My very unpopular, but effective solution: If several reports had the same incorrect answer, and the work shown was done the same way, the lab score would be divided among the number of reports. So if three students did the same problem wrong exactly the same way, the highest score any one of them could get would be a 33.

Lenore Hoffman

March 19th, 2013
9:14 am

A prevalent, accepted justification for cheating in many forms is, “It’s your fault if you can’t catch me.” This excuse can be used by employees using the computer for myriad purposes other than work, shoppers tasting grapes at a grocery store (I am guilty!), technicians recommending unnecessary household or car repairs, and, of course, students cheating on tests and essays. I was a high school English teacher for almost forty years. I readily admit that the sophisticated on-line sources made my work as a teacher much more difficult. Yes, “copying verbatim from books” has been an age old form of cheating, but doing so required some effort in the age of pen and paper. In the computer world, a few clicks to get to the information and a few more to copy/paste it gleans the same results with much less work. Believe me; I am not at all supporting the idea that cheating is OK if it requires a lot of work. I am, though, looking at a more fundamental cause of cheating: laziness. Laziness and students’ confusion between right and wrong (a topic for another column) have led to the social monster cheating has become. In the last several years of my career, I could not take for granted that students would know what constituted cheating on any given assignment; that information had to be explicitly (and repeatedly) explained. I routinely told my students that “thinking hurts.” If done with purpose and a desire to LEARN, thinking might actually lead to a painful brain cramp, but the end result would be its own reward: knowledge. That “end result,” however, is not always a shared vision. Teachers still idealistically hope for knowledge as the end that justifies the means of hard work; students want the ‘A’ and don’t really care how they get it, nor do they care about retaining information. My husband, also a teacher, has said that the computer age has led to students creating their own delete button. That delete button is useful not only for information students deem irrelevant, but it can also be used for whatever illicit and illegal choices they make to gather that “irrelevant” information.


March 19th, 2013
9:18 am

During my freshman year at Tech, there was a cheating scandal in the introductory Computer Science class involving almost 200 students (I was in that class although not part of the 200).

It’s naive to think that a student working on an assignment with access to every resource known to mankind at his disposal wont use those resources. Honestly, you’d think less of the student if he didn’t.

The onus is going to be on the test writers in pretty much all cases. A test that grades a student based on his ability to get an answer that is either correct or incorrect is always going to be a cheater’s magnet. Tests need to be designed to capture the thought process rather than the result.

Pride and Joy

March 19th, 2013
9:22 am

About take home final exams — there is no way to know WHO is actually taking the test or doing the research.


March 19th, 2013
9:22 am

What doctor didn’t cheat his way through pre-med? What lawyer didn’t cheat his way through pre-law? What bride didn’t cheat her way through pre-nups? We ALL do it. It’s the difference between being an american success story or a holler-back-girl. Dick Cheney was a table setter for white house dinners before he cheated his way to commander-in-chief during the Iraq War. (true that)

Pride and Joy

March 19th, 2013
9:26 am

When hundreds of APS teacheres cheated and lied and erased students’ answers on student tests, they forever took away the right to complain that students cheat.
Teachers are adults and are expected to be good role models.
You reap what you sow, APS teachers, and the consequences of your crime is that honest teachers and students still suffer from your lack of morals.

reality check

March 19th, 2013
9:42 am

Cheating in academia is nothing new. I think it is likely the more prestigious the institution the more prevalent the cheating. When I was at Emory it was rampant. My physics lab final my freshman year was brutal. I made an honest 52 which dropped my final grade from an A to a C. Everybody else had a stolen copy of the exam and made pretty much perfect scores. I confronted the professor about it and it was shrugged off. A lot of those cheaters are doctors now.

The lack of ethics of leaders in Government and Corporate America is sickening.


March 19th, 2013
9:58 am

Cheating is rampant and is not accompanied by a second thought–much less a guilty conscience. My honors students admit to cheating much more often than my lesser motivated students. How honorable of them…. So, teachers must construct cheat-proof assessments, and if we don’t, the results of cheating are on us.


March 19th, 2013
10:08 am

When I was in college, many years ago, the really smart upperclassmen would memorize tests as they took them, then write them down after getting back to their dorm rooms. They would then sell copies to underclassmen.

Atlanta Mom

March 19th, 2013
10:18 am

” The instructions on the take-home exam explicitly prohibited collaboration, but many students said they did not think that included talking with teaching fellows”
Okay, let’s assume the students didn’t know they couldn’t talk to the teaching fellows. Why didn’t the teaching fellows know?

Atlanta Mom

March 19th, 2013
10:22 am

As for students sharing test questions on an exam during the school day: in my day, test grades were curved (as they were difficult). If a test is curved, and a student is stupid enough to share questions with a friend, the first deserves a lower grade.

Multiple Cheaters Here

March 19th, 2013
10:24 am

I don’t condone cheating, but if teachers know it’s going on and continue to facilitate it, reusing tests when they know students are cheating as a result, then the teachers are knowingly cheating the honest students.

Atlanta Mom

March 19th, 2013
10:24 am

The situtation you describe was rampant years ago. It was one of the reasons to join a frat house, to get copies of old tests. These days many professors post old tests on line, so all students have equal access.

Dr. Proud Black Man

March 19th, 2013
10:31 am

@Pride and Joy

“When hundreds of APS teacheres cheated and lied and erased students’ answers on student tests, they forever took away the right to complain that students cheat.
Teachers are adults and are expected to be good role models.
You reap what you sow, APS teachers, and the consequences of your crime is that honest teachers and students still suffer from your lack of morals.”

Uhhh…I don’t work for APS and NO TEACHER, SCHOOL, or ADMINISTRATOR in my small rural district to date has EVER been accused of cheating or testing improprieties. Reading the first sentence you wrote makes me think YOU cheated on your spelling tests!

What's Best for Kids?

March 19th, 2013
10:34 am

Pride and Joy,
Administrators cheated, too.
Many of them told teachers directly that they were to cheat.

Simmer Down

March 19th, 2013
10:37 am

Apparently @ Georgia has been cheating Darwin’s grand idea of evolution by natural selection.


March 19th, 2013
10:39 am

Last semester, I gave a test where students got by my efforts to prevent cheating. I discovered very early in my career how often students cheat, so I give six different versions of the test – now mind you they are not different questions, but scrambled and the answer choices on the multiple choice portion are also scrambled…. So I pass out the tests – 5 copies of each of the 6 versions, yet some how 9 people took version D…. Well the punishment I gave was to invalidate the tests for the approximately 5 students in one corner who all took “D.” They each then retook the test – all short answer and all different questions. New security measures in place until they figure out a way to overcome that, but they will find out the hard way that if they can’t “do” whatever it is that they “learned,” they will not be employed very long in a profession that requires those skills.

Ethics Advisor

March 19th, 2013
10:43 am

Well, now we know all about the problems and the excuses. Leadership is supposed to begin at the top. Unfortunately We, the People have allowed our political leaders at every level of government to escape their responsibilities. Just like any group, some are good, some are not!
We all (me too) use the excuse that we don’t have time to monitor what our elected officials do because of work, school, children among all the other things that fill our days and nights. Our elected officials count on this diversion from oversight.
We are just as guilty for what has and is happening to the wonderful experiment called America.
The first solution is to take back control of Washington D.C., State and local Government. Remember everyone in government works for U.S.! We have a choice; one, never vote for an incumbent OR do your homework and see if your elected official(s) are doing what they were voted into office to accomplish and vote from an informed basis. I prefer number one for a period of twenty years until the Two primary American Political Parties also learn that they work for U.S; simply by their direct association with the elective process. Neither party is as interested in America as they should be! The Party comes First!
The children who grew up from the turn of the century to the 1970’s accomplished so much with schools that ranged from one roomers for all grades to the comprehensive schools every state has now. I also recognize that this was a time of inequality in education and every aspect of our culture for some Americans and I do not support any part of the culture that included segregation!
All my life I have watched politicians throw money and more money at education without clearly designating how it is to be used; or just surrendering to the notion that money fixes everything. Reality number one – good to excellent teachers are the structure of the education system, not the administrators. If any single group in this country should be paid a six figure salary from graduation to retirement it is Teachers. At the same time, a union should not be available to government workers. A salary of this breadth would give more gifted people pause to consider education as a serious occupation and so our skill level of teachers will increase and those now gaming the system will either be forced to really learn their craft and compete for their job or fall by the wayside. I recognize that there are excellent teachers in every state, they are not the norm.
As I enter my sixth decade, I recognize that my generation fell asleep at the wheel, including me. The problems that our society faces today have all become such big problems that they appear to be unfixable. We cannot continue to think like this! We must take back ownership of our country. What can I do? That is the question we all ask! Folks if we do not take the proper actions, our country will soon be on the ash heap of History! It begins at the top and works its way down.

Old Guy

March 19th, 2013
11:05 am

To Pride and Joy. I teach Ga. Studies and Yes, hate to disappoint you, but we don’t ask who invented the cotton gin. We ask why was it important. AND the answer is that it increased slavery. We actually use graphs that show the increase in the number of slaves in Ga. and the South after the invention of the gin. We do some things right.

Old Physics Teacher

March 19th, 2013
11:12 am

When the entire emphasis by Congress, Fed DOE, State DOE, “Focus Groups,” Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee et al,, AND THE SCHOOLS THEMSELVES, is on “teaching to the test,” this is what you get. The scores on the test are more important than learning.

So the teacher gives the same test over and over, so what? When a woman walks down the street wearing a short dress and stockings, is she asking to be raped? Who’s at fault here? Who actually put down answers that were not their own? At one time in this country people were responsible for their actions. When juveniles (probationary citizens) screwed up, the parents were the ones who were held to accountability. The police, Government, and the courts agreed. Now the “Courts of Justice” have been replaced with “Courts of Law.” Lawyers no longer hold to the code of ethics or right and wrong and give everyone equal justice before the bar. Oh, No! It’s now about winning and losing. It’s irrelevant if your client is guilty AND YOU KNOW YOUR CLIENT IS GUILTY. It’s the prosecutor’s job to convict the felon (or the plaintiff’s job to show harm), if the defending attorney can get a felon off (or a defending attorney can convince a jury otherwise), that’s perfectly acceptable.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves…”

Just Sayin.....

March 19th, 2013
11:15 am

Teachers don’t change their test, and the students share what’s on the test with their classmates who have not taken yet taken it.

That is cheating.

Really? Then I would say that most of the fraternaties at most colleges and universities are cheaters. The have a complete history of a teachers tests. Those that are in the frat get access to those tests. Those not in the frat do not. Cheating?

I am aware of an instance where a teacher used an online study guide as a test….most of the students used it (teacher was unaware it was public domain) and received 100 percent on the test. Smart on the students’ part, I’d say yes. Lazy on the teacher’s part, I’d say ye

I had an A&P (Anatomy and Physiology) teacher at GPC do something like this. I did not find out until AFTER the semester that the vast majority of students in my class knew this. I studied like crazy, and others just looked over the tests before they got there. I still made an “A” (have two degrees with a GPA of 3.8), but it made me mad that I studied to get the same grade that everyone else “cheated”. BTW, this was in 2005.

Take home tests are another creature. Colleges ought to learn: don’t do them. Do you really think that students will not collaborate/cheat? And when you do do them, don’t lay the onus of proving innocence on the student. If you can’t PROVE guilt, give them the grade and leave it be. Don’t rely on the honor system to make up for a professor’s lazy work ethic. More often than not, they only teach six da** hours of the week, and they can’t even be bothered to come up with a new test twice a year.

Devil's Advocate

March 19th, 2013
11:20 am

This sounds like lazy test administration to me.

Case 1: Multiple answers

I remember the old ScanTron multiple choice tests in the 1980s. I used to grade papers for my mother by taking the answer key she prepared and running it through the ScanTron machine then letting it automatically grade each test. I would assume that the purpose of running the key first was so that the machine could create a “grid” in memory to compare to each student test for grading. The biggest difference between the ScanTron grading and what this article states is that multiple answers would be counted as wrong.

Any multiple choice test I’ve ever taking in grade school explicitly stated that one answer should be selected per problem and to erase changed answers adequately. Those simple instructions that have been around for at least 30 years would have prevented this trivial litigation to avoid a cheating charge. “Select the best possible answer” is a nice one seen many times multiple choice tests.

Heck, many modern tests actually support multiple answers now so I don’t blame the students for picking 2 or more if they honestly believe those answers could satisfy the question.

LAZY test administration at play.

Case 2: Answer awareness

Many teachers have repeated the same test questions year-to-year or class-to-class such that students could possibly obtain answers before the test. This is nothing new. Once again, back in the 1980s, I remember my teachers preparing multiple versions of the same test to give to the different class periods they taught so that students wouldn’t have immediate access to questions or answers before taking the test. If a teacher doesn’t do this then it’s lazy and their own fault.

As for using an online study guide as a test…LAZY! Was the teacher even authorized to reproduce the study guide in the form of a test? How is it the students’ fault for using an online study guide to learn the material then the exact same questions just happen to end up on the test? Are the students supposed to purposely miss some questions to punish themselves and make it more difficult?


March 19th, 2013
11:25 am

Cheating is at all time high levels and the students are more accomplished at younger and younger ages. Our system requires common assessments, overcrowded classrooms and BYOT; what do you think you are going to get? At some point, you are tempted to throw in the towel. I am close to that point.


March 19th, 2013
11:25 am

Fraternal organizations have been spreading copies of tests for generations…pity the professor who never changes his test…


March 19th, 2013
11:54 am

@Clutch Cargo, a high school in Northwest Georgia (not in my system) has as its unofficial motto, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” I think this has been the key to their great sports program for many years. Also, their BOE chairman was recently quoted in a local paper saying he wanted their system to become a system of choice so they could pull the best students and athletes from other schools in the area. How’s that for class?

What's Best for Kids?

March 19th, 2013
12:00 pm

I think that we are also forgetting that school is what you put into it. I can get the cliff notes to Gatsby and pass a test; however, actually reading the novel gives me more information and nuance.
What ever happened to loving learning and not “scoring a grade”?

old teach

March 19th, 2013
12:26 pm

Yes, cheating has been around forever. But I have noticed over the last ten to fifteen years that the “shame” for being caught cheating has all-but disappeared. When I first began teaching in 1980, I could actually see the embarrassment and shame on the student’s face when I caught him/her cheating on a test by stealing answers or using a cheatsheet. One of my former students from that time recently recounted her “severe crawl-under-the-desk embarrassment” at my catching her with a cheatsheet on a test! I’ve noticed a gradual change in attitude to the point that the students that I have caught cheating recently don’t feel embarrassed; many feel that it’s no big deal, and they will even ask to retake the test! And I have observed students copying others’ homework assignments almost directly in front of me during my advisory period.
Using another person’s answers instead of your own on an assignment is cheating. It has always been wrong, and it will always be wrong. And there’s no rationalizing it or explaining it away or making excuses for it (including everybody else does it).

Devil's Advocate

March 19th, 2013
12:54 pm

old teach,

Most of what you say is true. However, how do you define using another person’s answers? That’s pretty vague considering that just about everything you know comes from a combination of information provided to you by someone else or lessons learned from your own experience. Often times your own experience involves someone else.

Looking at another student’s paper and copying answers is clear cheating. Obtaining information (studying, research, collaboration, etc) before arriving at the test becomes a gray area depending on the situation. Why is it okay for “smart” students to have study groups but it’s cheating for other students to collaborate about possible answers to know topics before the test? Don’t students share knowledge and answers in study groups? We have the Internet now which provides more real answers than any textbook on any topic. Are students cheating for looking up test topics on the Internet prior to taking a test? Would it not be cheating if they looked up the topic in a 1978 textbook or encyclopedia instead of the Internet?

Cheating on a test means doing something unethical in hopes of high achievement on the test. Copying answers from other students, obtaining test questions purposely before the test (not a student’s fault if the teacher uses a publicly accessible study guide to create a test), and using resources not allowed during the test are examples of cheating in my opinion.

I mean when I go to work my employer doesn’t tell me I can only look in one book or from one set of notes to find answers in fulfilling my duties. The source of information is only an issue as far as the ethics of acquiring the information goes.

If a teacher only wants students to use knowledge collected in their brains then the test needs to be closed book/closed notes. If the teacher wants to gauge the real understanding of the material then the test should be open resources, no collaboration with other students, but the answers should be essay or multi-step math problems depending on the subject that fully exercises the topics being tested.

Bottom line, the test administrator does have responsibility in setting the integrity of the test just as students have the responsibility of respecting the integrity of the test by not cheating (violating the rules of the test).

Things just aren’t as simple as they used to be.


March 19th, 2013
1:04 pm

I am required to give all of my math students the same multiple choice assessment. The bubble sheets are mailed to central office for grading. The results are shared with my supervisors and my student scores are compared to other teachers who gave the same test. There is a huge incentive to look the other way when students collaborate (cheat).

bootney farnsworth

March 19th, 2013
1:35 pm

consider: DCSS had a high level admin who was caught dead to rights plagerizing and they had to be PUSHED into him leaving.

whith this as an example….why should kids care

Hillbilly D

March 19th, 2013
1:43 pm

This is just a reflection of a much larger problem, in society as a whole. Nowadays, results are all that matter and it doesn’t matter how you get there, especially if you don’t get caught. Children learn by imitating what they see, in the world.

high school teacher

March 19th, 2013
1:53 pm

“Everyone involved bears responsibility for the cheating. Teachers need several tests if they teach different sections of the same subject each day.”

“Once again we find a way to demonize children and parents when they take advantage of a cavernous loophole created by a lazy teacher.”

Wow. So it’s my fault that students cheat on my test if I only have one version because I am placing them in a situation that is too tempting to resist. Is that what you are saying? That’s like saying that the convenience store clrek who steals money from the drawer shouldn’t be held responsible because the money should not have been so accessible.


March 19th, 2013
2:13 pm

Wouldn’t it be easier to just learn the material?