Cheating crisis a sad sign of times

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 As another school year begins, I was interested to learn that scores of teachers across the country are now forced to use what essentially amounts to digital spy programs to catch students who are cheating.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune said students are going to great lengths to get the answers to tests and have gotten pretty sophisticated in their cheating.

They’re using websites that calculate the answers for their math problems. In some cases students have taken secret photographs of exams and have forwarded them to their friends. They’re even sneaking cheat sheets into the memory banks of their calculators, the article said.

Because plagiarism has become so common among high school and college students — great essays are just a computer click away for the taking — teachers are now having to run compositions through automated plagiarism detectors.

About 10,000 schools already are using these digital detectors. And they’re using wireless systems that allow them to see what their students are doing with their classroom calculators, the Tribune said. Other instructors have been forced to use computer programs that shuffle test questions so every class gets a different version of the exam.

But here’s the sad part: “In the file-sharing, cut-and-paste world enabled by the Internet, some say the biggest challenge might be convincing students that what they’re doing is wrong,” the Tribune stated.

The entire cheating crisis boils down to the very fundamental issue of knowing right from wrong. Cheating has been a temptation for kids since the beginning of formal education, but statistics show it has escalated exponentially in recent years.

A poll of Who’s Who Among American High School Students showed 80 percent of the country’s best students cheated to get to the top of their class. In another survey of 12,000 high school students, 74 percent admitted cheating on a test at least once in the past year.

ABC Primetime did an in-depth piece earlier this year called “A Cheating Crisis in America’s Schools” that revealed a pervasive mindset among college students. They quoted a business major at a top state university: “Everything is about the grade that you got in the class. Nobody looks at how you got it.”

The young man was on track to graduate and already had landed a job with a top investment firm.

Here’s another disturbing realization: most cheaters don’t get caught. And if caught they seldom are severely punished, according the Educational Testing Service. “Many students see cheating as a means to a profitable end,” the agency said in an advertising campaign to discourage academic cheating.

With a mindset like this among a majority of our youth, it’s no wonder our country is so far off track and morally depleted.

It’s never too late, though, to make an effort to teach our children and grandchildren that cheating, as innocuous as it may seem, is simply wrong. I wish our education system could find a universal way to make the process of learning the focus rather than the almighty A.

Maybe it’s as simple as decreasing the pressure to get high grades. If elite universities could measure students on life experience and integrity rather than their 4.0 grade-point average, wouldn’t we be better off in the long run?

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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