cheating culture



illustrations ANGELICA NAVARRO


The scribbling of pencils. The rustle of papers. And, occasionally, the furtive sliding of eyes over to look at the work of the neighbor, or the flash of a cell phone shielded from the teacher’s searching eyes.

This so-called “cheating culture” exists in every class, no matter the rigor, yet is hardly ever reported. Students instead flock together in solidarity, an unspoken agreement between all of them to not “snitch” on what is widely thought to be a harmless act. But to the administration, this is anything but harmless. SPHS’s punishments for cheating are largely based on the gravity of the action, but can be as severe as expulsion from school. However, these policies fail to address root causes of cheating culture.

The mentality that cheating is harmless seems widespread among the students of SPHS and originates from multiple sources. Junior Ben* is one of many students that are opposed to a system that prioritizes grades over learning.

“The amount of homework we’re assigned is ridiculous,” Ben said. “I think I learn more by doing stuff after school than learning in school sometimes, and I think it’s dumb that we’re forced to be in school from 8-3 and then have to go home and do homework for another four hours. So sometimes I get home from work and I’m tired and I just go to sleep because I prioritize my health over the Common Core, and I copy afterwards. I think it’s harmless.”

Tiger conducted a survey asking if students would commit, had committed, are bothered by, or would report several different cheating offenses. These offenses ranged from copying homework to paying someone to take the SAT in one’s place. 764 responses were collected from an assortment of grades in a randomized survey. Based on this survey, it was calculated that 83% of the respondents—635 students—have copied homework, whether it be from a fellow student or the internet. Upon seeing these statistics, Principal Janet Anderson and Assistant Principals Ginger Merritt and Janet Wichman,were surprised.

“It’s a pretty high number given your sample,” Anderson said, with nodded agreement from Wichman and Merritt. “I’m not unaware that cheating goes on, and I think there’s some sophisticated ways that people cheat, but that percentage is pretty high.”

Ben, as well as senior girl Jane*, also reacted with surprise to this information, but for different reasons. To them, the statistic seemed too low. Both stated that a more accurate percentage would fall in the nineties.

“I cheat because I feel like the teacher didn’t explain the material properly. Or I feel like I could understand the material, it’s just that I don’t have enough time.”

Pop culture perpetuates the idea that cheating is indicative of bad character. But with 83% of the student body having admitted to cheating, either SPHS teens are exceptionally morally corrupt or our understanding of what cheating stems from is flawed.

“Look, when you’re taking multiple APs, you learn to prioritize certain classes above others,” Jane continued. “I cheat because I feel like the teacher didn’t explain the material properly. Or I feel like I could understand the material, it’s just that I don’t have enough time.”

Interviews with students and administration revealed very different views on the act of copying homework, which only 4% of students said they would report. Administration believes copying homework, or any act of cheating at all, serves as a “gateway crime” into other acts of cheating. Students such as Jane defended their cheating by citing their rigorous schedules.

“For math and science, and also in English sometimes, I think I learn better if I have the answers right in front of me,” Jane said. “And I mean, obviously, sometimes I copy homework just because it’s like, ‘Oh no, I forgot to do this!’ and I just ask a friend if I can copy theirs. Because I would have done the homework, I just happened to forget, and I feel like I should still get the points.”

Reporting a cheater is often viewed by the student body as worse than cheating itself. On many of the surveys collected, Tiger found handwritten notes in the survey margins varying from “Tattletales are the worst” to “Snitches are B*tches.”

“We had, in the past, a cheating incident,” Principal Janet Anderson said. “And what I found really interesting was that they were mostly angry—not at the person who cheated and caused them to have to retake the test—they were angry at the person they wrongly suspected of having turned in the cheater. What’s going on there? When someone who has integrity and said, ‘Look, this happened,’ gets treated just terribly, and people are making excuses for the person who cheated—I don’t get it.”

Tiger’s survey results showed that only 17% of students would report cheating on a test. The administration sees cheating as a lack of integrity, but students view it as a natural response to their lack of time to finish the amount of work they have—a workload caused by the extracurriculars and rigorous academic schedule demanded by selective colleges. In fact, tattletailing could be seen as having a lack of empathy for the cheater’s situation, instead of being an act of integrity.

Tiger’s survey did show that students do not regard every act of cheating with the same leniency.

“When someone who has integrity and said, ‘Look, this happened,’ gets treated just terribly, and people are making excuses for the person who cheated. I don’t get it.”

57% of students are bothered by another person lying on college apps, and 56% of students take offense to others paying someone to their SATs/ACTs. When it comes to reporting these acts, 37% of students would report paying for the SATs/ACTs, and 21% would report lying on college apps. While these percentages may seem low compared to the proportion of students bothered by these acts, they are significantly high when compared to reporting cheating on a test (17%) or cheating on homework (4%).

The difference between lying on college apps and cheating on homework lies in how much students perceive the offense to affect themselves. To students, copying homework has little to no effect on the cheater’s peers. But lying on college apps could have direct influence on all the students. A cheater with a higher SAT score, or someone who lied on college apps could be accepted into a selective college over a student who did neither of those things.

“I think as someone who’s worked very hard for what they have, to see someone not put in the effort but still look the same to colleges, that really gets on my nerves,” Jane said. “I still wouldn’t report it, though, just because they’ll eventually get what they deserve. You can’t go to an Ivy League and do well if you’ve just cheated your whole life.”

Administration can’t afford to ignore the reasons behind student cheating if they wish to minimize the problem. To chalk up cheating to a lack of integrity is a statement that punishes symptoms without looking at causes. The current disciplinary response to cheating is extreme, but fails to dissuade cheaters; the perceived reward still outweighs the risks, especially when cheating is easily kept hidden. The unprecedentedly competitive high school environment is what deserves further investigation, if student integrity is to be protected.

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