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Can we cheat-proof schools?

"It's not the dumb kids who cheat," one Bay Area prep school student told me. "It's the kids with a 4.6 grade-point average who are under so much pressure to keep their grades up and get into the best colleges. They're the ones who are smart enough to figure out how to cheat without getting caught." from "Everybody Does It" by Regan McMahon, San Francisco Chronicle,Sept 9, 2007

cheating1.jpgIt's time we made a serious effort in finding pedagogical means of ending cheating. When 90% of high school students admit to cheating, something is out of whack. And it is hard to point a finger an entire generation of kids.

I've addressed why kids might cheat and how one might plagiarize-proof research assignments. But can teachers help make tests and homework cheat-proof as well?

McMahon suggests Top 5 Ways to Curb Cheating

  • Create an honor code with student input so they're invested in it
  • Seriously punish cheaters according the academic integrity policy
  • Create multiple versions of tests to make purloined answer keys useless
  • Ban electronic devices in testing rooms
  • Develop multiple modes of assessment so the grade is not determined primarily on tests

Of these, I would endorse last one. Here are Johnson's Top 5 Ways to Curb Cheating:

  • Use performance-based assessments that require personal application of or reaction to the topic
  • Be very clear about what will be tested/assessed
  • Make every assignment a group assignment with expectations that the role of each group member be clearly defined
  • Only make assignments that are actually necessary (Alfie Kohn writes that there is little correlation between test scores and homework.)
  • Eliminate "objective tests" or make them all open book.

What's wrong with the honor code business? Nothing except it seems we are in a social values shift about cheating and about property rights if 90% of a population no longer holds an older value. Personally, given my Boomer sensitivities, I think kids who cheat are little weasels. But then the majority of US citizens, by generations usually, have also changed their views on things like slavery, women's rights, gay rights, seat belts, smoking, littering, the environment, and Michael Jackson from what they were at one time.

I'd like to bang a drum about the need for a society that places less emphasis on test scores, that has a better means of choosing kids for colleges, and that values non-testable attributes of people. But you wouldn't want to listen and it wouldn't do much good. What is within the individual teacher's sphere of influence?

Anyway, read the article in the Chronicle and tell me how you would curb the cheating epidemic... 

Oh, I expect to get beat up on this entry. Have at it.




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Reader Comments (13)

Once again, a loud AMEN!
Don't give students a reason to cheat.

Dan Meyer recently blogged his assessment process for his math classes which essentially removes any reason to cheat. Check it out here -

Unfortunately, we have lost our moral compass as someone says in the article. That resonates with me since I live in Boston, home of Bill Belichek, NE Patriots head coach and master cheater who, thankfully, got caught.

That article should make interesting dinner conversations throughout the country or could be a teachable moment in classrooms everywhere.

September 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Janowski

Not going to beat you up about it, but I think that conjoining "social values shift about cheating and about property rights" is a bit illicit. The shift in thinking about cheating is very different from the shift in thinking about property rights.

On the honour code business - the thing is, you can create all the honour codes you want, but you can't simply create something and expect students to buy into it - not even if the students 'participated' in its creation, because their participation is under duress (it's under duress if they don't have a legitimate option to say 'no', which they don't).

September 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Downes

I also agree, AMEN, but even with Bill Bellichek, a fine wasn't enough. (Our social values are really sad, aren't they?) The man should have lost his job, and the game should have been forfeited.
Of course, kids are going to cheat, when they see someone of his prominence get away with it. (His salary will more than cover his fine.)

September 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

Hey--sorry, but I have to agree. My son's highlight of the week last week was a friend who got caught cheating on a vocab test w/ his phone. His point--man by the time he input all that data he probably had it and didn't need to cheat! He is very disenchanted w/ school-- Post is called "Why does it take so long?" and here is the URL:
Sorry--I can't remember how to script a link!

September 14, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

I remember my dad talking about the honor system. He graduated from a well known university in the fifties. He said that the moment the professor left the room during an exam, the football players got out their books and started cheating. Cheating has been around forever. All of the focus on testing doesn't help the situation. I used to ask my students to write down three things they learned from a lesson. I found this more effective than formal tests. Plus, your first point in the Top Five is the way to go.

September 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBetty

Hi Betty,

You make an important point - cheating has been around forever.

What I am wonder is if not feeling bad about cheating is somewhat new?


September 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Cathy,

Really enjoyed the post on your blog! I encourage others to read it.


September 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Janet,

On of the things I like most about the Chronicle article is that it did not minimize the complexity of the issues! In this sort of thing, it's awfully easy to simply point the finger in one direction!

Appreciate your comment,


September 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Stephen,

I didn't mean to imply that cheating and property rights were part of the same issue - only that they were two issues that seem to be undergoing a transformation in values. Lots of kids cheating, lots of kids downloading copy protected music. Sorry for the confusion.


September 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Karen,

Thanks so much for putting folks on to Dan's blog. I loved his statement that tests "a meaningless exercise in classroom control' and how he, a practicing teacher, offers a realistic alternative.

Hope you had a good conversation and thanks again for the comment!


September 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thanks for a great post.

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterterm papers

Cheating is a regular response to pressure from parents and schools. I have to admit I cheated on several occasions.

February 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercheating-in-school

Hi there,

You might enjoy this column about why we cheat:

All the best and thanks for commenting,


February 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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