Cheating or Collaborating?


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Shelby Tindall, Co-managing Editor

Are you, dare we say it, a cheater? Well, according to the results of the Student Wellness Survey published in the Lantern, 86 per cent of Pres students are.

The results reveal that the most common forms of cheating reported by students are “working with others when individual work was assigned, copying homework, getting tests answers/questions from a peer, and copying content without citing the source.” As Presentation is a Catholic high school, these findings seem a little concerning. We all know what is right from wrong, and it isn’t a foreign concept that cheating is immoral. So why have so many students cheated?

Before we can determine why there is cheating, it is important to define what cheating is. And for Pres students, that seems to be easier said than done. Most students can list off copying someone’s test, plagiarizing, using notes on a test or copying someone’s homework as cheating. But not all students seem to be aware of all the examples the Student Handbook lists as cheating.

A prime example that the Student Wellness survey pointed out was the collaboration on individual homework. When students were asked their opinions, most said they would not consider it an offense.

Junior Renuka Garg said in an email, “It wouldn’t seem like doing your homework with another person in the class would be cheating, if you both are doing the work but talking to each other about how to answer a particular question. I think that this sort of collaboration should not be labeled as cheating.”

Another student, senior Kristin Gill, pointed out the fact that some students go to tutors to get help with their homework. If collaborating is cheating, would tutoring be considered cheating if a student needed homework help?

This obvious disconnect between what students consider cheating and how the school defines it can cause problems. While most rules on cheating are obvious, it is apparent that not all students are clear on the cheating guidelines. And for those who are unaware of all the rules, they are unknowingly committing a violation.

Obviously, that is not the case for everyone. Most people who cheat know they are doing so. So why would a Pres student cheat when we all know it’s wrong? The reasons really aren’t surprising, though they should be.

One of the biggest reasons is probably one of the most obvious at Pres. There is simply too much work. Students don’t feel like they are able to finish all the assigned work in the amount of time provided. Even though there are only have four classes at the most per day, as the Wellness Survey results show, this still results in between three and four hours of homework per night.

Add on a plethora of activities, and there just isn’t enough time left for homework, reading, studying and projects. When you have a math and Spanish quiz to study for, swim practice, and a physics project, copying one of your friends’ vocab activities seems like a harmless option–and really, the only option if you want to do well in school.

For the same reason, when students are unable to complete homework because they don’t understand it, they can feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. When there’s already so much work to do, you can’t possibly spend all your time on one assignment. But you also don’t want to have incomplete homework and get a worse grade. And really, if you don’t understand how to do a homework problem, what are you to do? When students feel limited and stressed by their options, copying a friend’s homework or work off of the internet feels like the best option.

There is also the constant pressure to do well. As freshman Taylor Togami says, “I think the cheating statistic was so high because the pressure and stress to get good grades is so high. Society has created this idea in our heads that good grades mean a lot in life.”

With pressure from parents and the omnipresent promise of college, students are constantly expected to excel. But at times it isn’t possible. Just trying your best doesn’t always cut it and if students want to get the As or get into that one college, something has to give. As one student, freshman Mia Habib, puts it, “Everything is more about getting it done and somehow ending with a good grade instead of actually learning the material.”

Looking at all the reasons, there seems to be one recurring theme: grades are being valued over learning and integrity to the point where cheating is a viable option. This being so, it seems like some kind of action must be taken.

While not all teachers follow this format, most teachers grade homework on completion, but some grade on correctness. Instead of causing stress about homework, which is supposed to be used as a supplement to learning, teachers should provide more leniency. If a student cannot complete all of her homework because she doesn’t know how, should her grade really suffer? It would seem more reasonable to grade off of effort rather than completeness, and most especially correctness.

Another solution could simply be clarity. Teachers rarely clarify if homework is to be done individually. Is it supposed to be implied that all homework assignments are individual, or are we to assume that we can collaborate on assignments unless explicitly said? Explicit directions and better communication could possibly aid in cutting down cheating.

Surprisingly, while the cheating statistic seems to reveal cheating as a major problem for the school, the Pres administration is not concerned. “The cheating statistic, although it seemed high, really was not an area of concern for [the Stanford researchers], nor was it for us [the school],” Vice Principal Susan Mikacich said. “The questions that they asked in that survey regarding cheating were very broad.”

According to Mikacich, the majority of cheating was found to be minor offenses, with very low instances of major cheating. “The other piece of data we looked at as a school and why we’re not so terribly concerned, is that in each of your semester classes you do a perception survey. And one of the questions has to do with, ‘Are you aware of any cheating occurring in the class?’ That percentage has historically been very, very low consistently semester by semester.”

So is cheating at Pres a problem or not? Of course students need to take some of the responsibility for their actions, but it seems that teachers and students need to have some discussions about how they define the terms cheating and collaborating.

And finally, students need to remember science teacher Diane Rosenthal’s favorite mantra: “It’s better to pass with pride and fail with dignity.”