Cheating in school is not a new phenomenon, but the methods kids are using have changed. In an age when cell phones and the Internet are readily available, children are discovering new and ingenious ways to cheat.
Maria Rojano, 15, a student from Hillwood High School, describes a few of the new techniques she's observed kids at her school use.
"There are different things they'll do. They will grab their cell phone, hide it on the side of their leg and text. If it's a girl, she'll put the phone in her purse, and then pretend she's getting gum or something like that, look at the phone and then close the purse," Rojano says. "Kids will put it between their legs, too, and they'll raise their legs on their desks so teachers won't see."
That's not to say the "old school" methods aren't still in play. Kids still pass notes, hide answers in their shoes, write them in between their fingers and hide small slips of paper in their clothes. It's just the high-tech ways of cheating are becoming more popular and widespread among teens.
According to a 2009 national poll commissioned by the non-profit organization Common Sense Media, more than one-third of teens (35 percent) with cell phones admit to cheating at least once by using them, and 65 percent of all teens admit to seeing or hearing others cheat with cell phones. More than 1,000 students nationwide between the ages of 13 and 18 (grades 7 - 12) were interviewed in May and June 2009 for the survey. The poll found that there was no significant difference between honor students and non-honor students or private versus public school.
"Kids just want to get the right answer, so they don't look bad or get a bad grade," Rojano says. "I think it's because most of the kids don't like to study, because some things are really hard for them to understand. Maybe they're afraid to fail, so they cheat."
Methods of Cheating
Methods of "cell phone cheating" include storing information on a cell to look at during a test or quiz, sending text messages with answers while taking a test, snapping pictures of test questions with a camera phone then sharing them with friends and searching the Internet on a cell phone during a quiz or test.
"It's not that teachers don't pay attention, it's just that kids are very sneaky," Rojano says. "Teachers do look, but it's hard to catch them because there are so many kids."
According to Common Sense Media, more than eight in 10 teens have cell phones, and 53 percent have had them since they were 12 years old or younger. On average, teens with cell phones send 440 text messages in a week, 110 of those taking place during class.
But cell phones are not the only method students employ to cheat. The survey found that 52 percent of teens admit to some form of cheating via the Internet. More than one-third say they've copied text from Web sites and turned it in as their own work.
The survey found that many students don't consider these methods of cheating as serious offenses, and some don't consider them cheating at all.
When it comes to testing, 41 percent of students acknowledge that storing notes on a cell phone to look at during a test is cheating and a serious offense, but 23 percent don't consider this cheating at all. Interestingly, 20 percent argue that texting their friends the answers during tests isn't cheating either.
An astonishing 36 percent of students say that downloading a paper from the Internet to turn in as their own work was not a serious cheating offense, while 19 percent say this isn't cheating at all.
"I think kids don't recognize, for instance, always when something is plagiarism or not. They go online. They research something. They pick up a whole line or a whole paragraph. They insert it with their own work. I'm not sure they see that as cheating," says Liz Perle, editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media. "It's new technology, and you know, there are some gray areas where kids just need guidance."
Naomi Rowe, a mother of two and former high school English teacher, doesn't find these results surprising. "I think in a way, it's like a calculator in math class. I think that's how they think of it. They're allowed to use a calculator, and technically, the calculator is doing the work for them. In the same way, that's what the Internet is doing. It's writing their papers for them; it's giving them their answers," Rowe says. "I don't know if they see it as different, because it's a tool that's helping them solve the problem, to solve whatever assignment they need to do. It's all about mindset."
Perle recommends that teachers be alert and aware that this type of cheating is happening in their classrooms. "Teachers have to realize that kids have updated the ways they cheat. Don't give the same test to two classes in a row if you think someone's going to take a picture of the answers or the questions to send it to someone in the next period," Perle says.
Rita Monette, a Tennessee grandmother of eight, argues that teachers have to give harder tests. "If I were a teacher and knew these kids were cheating, I'd create the hardest test I could come up with, make it in essay format and have it timed. I say no more multiple choice, one word answers," Monette says. "Have schools gone soft? Or worse yet, lazy? Instead of worrying about a punishment, fighting with parents or accepting the fact that they are getting one over on us, try outsmarting them. We are the adults, right?"
Is There a Solution?
Are cell phones to blame? Some argue that cell phones should not be allowed in a classroom setting.
"I think a lot of kids have gotten to the point of abusing the right to have a cell phone. Period. I think cell phones should be banned from the classroom," says Monette. "If they are not mature to follow the rules with them, or any other technology item, they shouldn't be allowed to use them unsupervised."
Rowe doesn't believe that the schools need to go to the extreme of banning cell phones. She argues that students may need them for emergency purposes or contacting their parents.
"In terms of cell phones being in the classroom, just make sure your students keep them in their backpacks, and keep their backpacks on the backs of their chairs ... that might be a simple solution, but then I might be naive in my thinking of that," Rowe says.
Rojano doesn't think there's much parents or teachers can do to solve this problem. It just depends on the individual student.
"It's hard to tell kids 'don't cheat,' because some people will do it and some won't. They just have to follow the rules. You can't really take someone's cell phone away, just because you think they're going to cheat or anything. Teachers just need to check and keep their eyes on the students," Rojano says.
Doan Phuong Nguyen is a frequent contributor to this publication.
tips for parents
- Make restrictions and talk to your kids about appropriate, responsible and ethical use of technology.
- Review school policies with your children. Discuss school consequences with your kids and set up at-home consequences for those violations as well.
- Discuss what cheating is. Explain to them why it is wrong, and the negative consequences related to it. It is never too early to have this conversation.