Student cheating has been around as long as school itself—from answers jotted on hands to iPods loaded with answers, this age-old problem isn't going away anytime soon. Though cheating seems to have a variety of definitions, technically it's any act of passing off someone else's work as your own. Surprisingly, it's not just high school and college students looking for an easy A—kids at almost every grade level and in every type of school cheat in some way.
In preschool and kindergarten, kids want to make sure they're doing things right, so often look to classmates for direction. Lucille Callahan, a kindergarten teacher in Pennsylvania, thinks that kindergarten-aged students don't usually mean to cheat if they look at a neighbor's work, because students around age 4 or 5 are learning to follow directions and pay attention for longer periods of time. She states, "Later on, looking at a classmate's paper is considered cheating, so we encourage them to do their own work, and ask for help from the teacher instead of looking around the room."
By the time they reach college though, many young adults deliberately cheat. Results of a questionnaire given to Rutgers University students found that 68 percent admitted to breaking the school's anti-cheating rules. Their defense? According to the Online Education Database, cheaters have higher GPA's, win scholarships and coveted internships and often find more successful careers. With a society focused on success, the bottom line and getting ahead, it's not hard to see why kids feel pressured to bend the "moral compass."
The number of ways to cheat are limitless, but here are some tried-and-true methods to watch for:
- Old standbys still work. Copying someone else's work, storing or writing down information and looking at it during a test, and whispering to classmates when you need help are age-old ways to cheat.
- Recycling is in. Kids who are a semester or grade ahead can give or sell old notebooks, tests and quizzes to current students. If teachers haven't changed exams or assignments dramatically, these old documents are a gold mine to whoever owns them.
- Hand-held devices. Cell phones, calculators and the iPod touch can all store information students might use to fudge a test. Kids can also text a friend for an answer, or tip-off others about a pop quiz.
- Internet intervention. The internet has dramatically changed the ways kids cheat. Now, you can visit websites to find pre-written term papers or essays and homework assignments. These sites are often free to sign up, and offer a wealth of information your child can copy and paste into her school assignments.
- Chat rooms and forums. You'll also find chat rooms and forums online where kids can go to ask questions about specific exams, or find someone who is willing to do some work for money. Monitor you child's online activities by checking visited websites—keeping tabs on activity can prevent cheating.
Recent cheating scandals involving the SATs and other major testing programs are also becoming more prevalent. Students are choosing to pay "imposters" to take the tests, since many SAT tests are taken at neighboring schools where teachers won't recognize students. All that's required is a photo I.D. card, which is fairly easy to make.
So as a parent, what can you do to prevent or discourage cheating? You play a big role in teaching morals and instilling integrity in your kid. Here are a few tips:
- Know the assignment. Take an active interest in homework assignments and prepping your child for her tests. If you work as a team to get ready for the exam, and then talk about the results later, she's more apt to be honest with you about her grades.
- Talk to her teachers. Attend Parent's Night and any other meetings with your kid's teachers. Find out how the teacher feels she's performing, and what you both can do to help promote better grades. Ask the teacher about his anti-cheating policies, what he teaches kids about cheating and if he's ever suspected your child of cheating.
- Be positive no matter the grade. Support your child no matter her grades, so that she knows she doesn't have to risk cheating just to make you happy or proud. If she gets a poor result, take some time to go over what happened and make a game plan to do better next time.
- Avoid paying for good grades. Although positive reinforcement helps in many cases, paying for good grades may just encourage cheating. It tells kids that they work for cash, and that their grade is more important than what she learned.
- Reward effort and learning. You should, instead of grades, reward learning and effort. If your child works for hours on a science project and enjoys it, you can still take her out to dinner or a movie. Let her know that you saw how hard she worked, and that if she keeps up the effort and challenges herself, the A's will come.
Putting the emphasis on work and learning, rewarding honesty and integrity, as well as staying involved in your kids' academic activities can help keep cheating to a minimum. Children learn what they are taught and emulate adults, so make sure you are practicing what you preach!