Did you ever cheat in school?

I had a hard time believing this anecdote was true. This is from an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times written by a high school math teacher.

A few weeks ago, a student took my final exam in the morning and gave the answers to someone who was taking it that afternoon. The second student didn’t notice that the question on his test was slightly different, and the answer was now wrong. When confronted, he professed not to understand that he had cheated. He thought that getting a test answer from another student in advance was no different than studying with a partner. A few days later, when his mother came in to find out why her son had failed, she too said she couldn’t understand the difference.

In short, not only do kids cheat, but they don’t seem to understand what cheating is.

Does this ring true to you? If you are a student or recent grad, how prevalent was cheating at your school? We’ll be digging into these questions at 11:15.

–Stephanie Curtis, social media host

  • Nancy Jo Hambleton

    While I won’t be able to hear your whole show this morning, I would like to encourage your guest to comment on two educational trends I see that contribute. As a post-secondary educator since 1982, I’ve gone from making up tests and assignments on mimeoraph machines for face-to-face classes to “delivering” on-line “education” with on-line assessment as the primary means of determining learning. The “elephant in the living room” of distance education is the fact that their is really no good way to ensure a student is doing his/her own work and certainly NO way to prevent the rampant cheating that has developed within the culture of distance learning. We can put up barriers and do additional checking (which takes A LOT of additional time – unrecognized and uncompensated, by the way), but the bottom line is these are only roadblocks to cheating – especially on objective testing measures. Students sit in our library at computer carols and discuss test questions among themselves, With the ability of cell phones to take a picture of a screen, it is ludicrous to think that the contents of any assessment tool is secure.

    Second, I agree with the New York Times article that many students don’t even understand the concept of academic integrity. I think that’s because the emphsis of education has been hijacked by the business institutions and their political puppets in our society. The primary purpose of education is no longer learning. We don’t even measure that anymore! It’s job readiness. Corporate industry and politicians have convinced taxpayers that retention rates, degree completion rates, and job readiness are the measures of student “success”. Families and students are “customers”. Schools are to deleiver the best “value” at the lowest price.

    The corporate business industry is passinfg the “training” they used to do in house with an employee on to “higher education. This absolves them of having to invest in an employee long-term. A few years down the road, the industry evolves to need other skills in their workers, they demand a new program in higher ed.. The “human assest” who “trained” for a specific job is used up and spit out. We are hurrying high school students into postsecondary courses even sooner with the lowering of the post-secondary options program to 10th-graders and the encouragement of concurrent enrollment programs. The belief seems to be that one-time exposure to a subject is “good enough” as long as the student is ready to enter the latest, hottest industry position. And families aren’t saddled with higher ed. costs if their child can get 2-3 years of college credits under their belts before they graduate from high school. The pressure to “earn credits” is tremendous and growing! The emphasis on getting a job – and one that can support you at that! – far outpaces the emphsis on learning. The business idea that “you get what you pay for” deludes students and families into thinking that if they are paying for the credits, they should get the credits. (And education has adopted this mentality as well with talk of “selling credits”!) Students are not taught how to learn, they’re taught how to pass. Students have told me over and over again that they only care about getting credits, not really learning. The importance of doing your own work, memorization, repetition, and all the other things we know makes for good learning is no longer valued. Why are we shocked and surprised when students cheat?

  • Mickey Rush

    Hi, I am an undergraduate in Physics at the University of Minnesota. I would say cheating is extremely prevalent in terms of students sharing homework answers and using solution manuals to complete homework. Despite the fact that most of us just want to learn interesting things, grades are unfortunately the largest factor in determining our future opportunities. Also, time constraints often force the use of aids to complete homework before the deadline. If we want less cheating, we would have to rid American schools of the “do whatever it takes to win” attitude and the culture of competition, an environment which is often in the best interests of American innovation and improvement and the creation of the most competent future professionals.

  • Paul

    There has been no evidence presented for an increase in cheating among school students in this generation over past generations. In my mind, the reason student’s cheat is simple, they are measured disproportionately by test scores. This has been the case for years and years, and is not a new phenomenon.

    A student may rationalize it this way: I know I learned the content and could do it in a job setting where i am allowed resources like the internet, but I don’t have the equation memorized and I can’t afford to hurt my gpa by doing poorly on this test. I will just program the answers in my calculator since i could do this in a job anyway.

    Not saying its right, but raises questions about the way we test.

  • Terry

    I ask students in my college class in Poli Sci: How would you like to be operated on by a surgeon who had cheated his or her way through med school? Would you want to cross a bridge that had been designed by someone who had cheated his or her way through civil engineering school?

  • Sam Howard

    As a recent college graduate of 2011 I belive that myself and my class mates in general all have a strong idea of what cheating is. But many of us have found that in the case where evryone is cheating not doing it yourself will cause you to suffer. Curves set by cheaters can hinder you. Harder tests to bring scores down can hurt non cheaters who dont have an already inflated grade. It really is seen (especially if you dont directly bring answer to a test) as something that just helps people get through a class whos content does not matter in there future with a grade that very much will.

  • Mike

    With all the things that elemetary school teachers have to cover now and days (so much they they cut down recess), when do they have time to ingrain in young people’s minds that cheating is wrong?

  • katie

    My boyfriend is a high school English teacher and has had more than one incident where the student has been caught cheating/plagarizing material which constitutes as an automatic fail in that class, but the administration bends to the pressure of the parents. How can we expect children to take it seriously when the adults in their life send the opposite message?

  • Matthew

    The reason students cheat is it’s easier than actually learning the facts, Professors also don’t root out cheaters because it’s easier than actually doing their work.

  • Jenna

    I think students know what cheating is and that it is bad. But I think they do it anyway.

    I graduated from the University of Minnesota recently and I will say that I have cheated. Nothing major – writing a few notes somewhere to have during a test for example. And this was always after I had been studying and studying but just couldn’t memorize everything that was required for the test.

    Generally the tests I liked were tests of understanding, not necessarily memorization. I think the “memorize this and regurgitate it” type test not only encourages cheating but also is less likely to really teach students a subject.


    Jenna from St. Paul

  • Chris

    In teaching college writing, I found that students really needed the plagiarism discussion. To really drive the point home, I began showing the film, “Flash of Genius” (2008) based on the true story of Robert Kearns who lost years of his life, his marriage, and suffered many other consequences when Detroit automakers stole his idea for the intermittent windshield wiper.

    I still found sections of essays that were cut and pasted from other sources, which it turns out in this electronic age, is very easy to find. I did, however, confront students when this happened and give them an ‘F’ on the essay. I had more than one student actually apologize to me for having cheated. I didn’t show the film until the end of the semester. The final essay was then based on the film. I think it made a big impact.

  • jon

    I just finished a high level college math course. One student was taking the test in the library the day before without being monitored (learning disability). It took me a while to realize he was giving me the answers to the test and not just studying. I was thinking of reporting him but when I thought about the class with this new lens I think everyone was in on it including the professor. When grades were posted I got the worst final grade but felt in lecture I understood the information the best. I am 43 and most classmates were 19-23. I don’t think I am on a higher moral plane—they needed to impress others—I just needed to impress myself.

  • kim

    I remain mad, 30 years later, at the rampant cheating of classmates at a catholic high school. Several basketball players stole a copy of the coach’s school keys; and while knowing, the coach looked the other way. It affected my class standing and impression by the counselor, who (oddly) encouraged me into housekeeping management, when science and writing were my passions (I went on the become a profeesional pilot). Those who cheated went on the affluent colleges, and remain unapologetic. I don’t attend my reunions….

    I also teach at a local university where it does appear most students feel cheating is justified due to GPA pressure, and in particular I find many international students who plagarize without understanding implications. This is likely due to difficulty for them with writing work in English.

  • Emily

    I don’t think cheating now means the same to kids as it might’ve meant to other generations. As a student, I personally don’t cheat, though not out of any moral opposition to it – I just can get by easy enough without it. I think cheating to kids in high school and college now is a cost/benefit thing, and if the benefits outweigh the costs, nine out of ten students will cheat. It’s hard when you’re staring at an impersonal paper test to realize you’re acting unethically.

    And personally, if someone was struggling, I would not be adverse to helping them cheat. And I think ethically, it’s hard not to want to help someone out, even if it is cheating, when you’re both placed in a relatively impersonal setting like exams.

  • Neva

    As a recent college grad, I was most bothered by the abuse of perscription drugs my peers used to increase their ability to stay up late and increase their focus. There is little sense of shame associated for abusing these drugs to ‘cheat’ physical requirements of sleep, compared to the traditional forms of cheating that are shameful.

  • John Gregg

    I haven’t heard anyone mention what I was taught in school (Graduated HS in 1973) “When you cheat, you are only cheating yourself, and will suffer from what you don’t really know, when you get into the real world.”.

  • Cathy

    Yes, I cheated in one class at the graduate level. I never cheated before or since. I was a straight A student–Summa Cum Laude, top 10, etc. The professor was an extremely poor teacher. We never knew what was going to be on the test. He somehow managed to spend a 4-hour evening class teaching us nothing. He had a test retake system, so eventually we just took turns being the first to do the retake test. Then we passed on the questions to each other.

  • Paul

    Where is the evidence that honor codes used to work but don’t anymore? That is a baseless statement.

  • charles

    To augment the information from the caller regarding files of material available for cheating; ‘gouge files’ exist at the military and are used regularly; if an officer struggles, he is tutored until he passes. Gouge files are available at several colleges I have attended locally too.

  • Nelle

    I’m a college sophomore at a small liberal arts school and rarely see cheating. When at a highly ranked high school, however, and in the International Baccalaureate program, I was often amazed by my classmates’ frequent cheating. In my experience, it’s a poor attitude towards focused study that causes most cheating. I was made to feel strange and isolated when I, after hours of studying, was excited to show what I knew on tests. If a student doesn’t want to put in the time, they should not be honored with advanced placement. Also, if a student doesn’t put in the time, they’ll miss out on the valuable confidence and, importantly, FUN of learning and communicating new knowledge.

  • Becky Kunz

    In my opinion this is an issue of critical thinking skills. We no longer teach students how to “think”. We focus a lot on how they “feel” but not how to critically think for themselves. From the beg. of their education teachers are forced to teach to the test. And students must memorize facts and not ideas. We no longer mentor great minds any longer.

  • Tom

    I took flying lessons when I was 17. I cheated in order to be able to make perfect landings…during normal weather conditions. On a very windy day, my instructor told me he would not normally let me go, but I seemed to have mastered landings, so he let me go. I almost turned myself into a grease-spot on the runway and scared the heck out of myself. The instructor recognized what I had been doing, and, almost literally kicking and screaming, pushed me back into the airplane and made me fly landings until I truely learned how to land. That flight instructor taught me more about cheating that day than I learned before or since.

    Would you want your doctor or pilot to have cheated?

  • James

    In the 19th century, China was unable marshal their military to repel Great Britain because too many officials in the Chinese government were corrupt, and were lying to the central government about resources in their jurisdiction. The corruption came about after people cheated in the Chinese civil service exam in order to get a government job.

  • http://minnesota.public.org Cathy

    I cheated in one class, which was at the graduate level. I had never cheated before & have not cheated since then. The professor of this class was an EXTREMELY poor teacher. He somehow managed to talk for 4 hours without teaching us a thing. We never had a clue about what he was going to test us on. He gave a 10 question quiz every week. If you didn’t get 90%, you had to take another quiz outside of the regular class time. Since no one got 90% on the first go-around, we quickly coordinated a plan to appoint one person a week to be the first to retake the quiz and then pass the questions on to everyone else. I feel ashamed that I cheated, but it was a matter of survival.

  • James

    When I was in college, several times I overheard one student tell another that she wasn’t ready for a test, was going to not show at that class on test day, and tell the professor it was because she had been in a car accident.

  • Michele

    One aspect that needs to be considered is that our children are being raised in a culture and society where cheating is systemic to our way of life: economic, political, educational, social, church. Any system one looks at we see that cheating is a “way of functioning.” I spoke with a young man from the Phillipines recently and he spoke about how in his country and in many third world countries—cheating is “openly” used as a way to get by—bribes are “just a way of Life.” But, he said, in the united states cheating is also a “way of life, systemically” it just is not talked about openly. It is, he said, ” a white collar way of doing business” and he shared, students in business school (in the US) are taught legal methods of ways to “get-by” (or cheat). His son is a grad student in business.Perhaps we need to “openly” name this reality as reality in the United States. It is better to name this reality and not hide it so that we can deal with it more openly—and work more openly with our youth. Can anyone comment on this aspect of the US society—ie, that cheating is systemic way-of-life in our social systems

  • James

    Regarding plagiarism, different teachers have different standards.

    When one teacher receives a paper that consists only of summaries and quotes of what others have said, even when the sources are properly cited, she will give an “F” for that paper, regarding it as plagiarism. For another teacher, such a paper is perfectly acceptable. For a third, it is acceptable, but he won’t give a grade of an “A” no matter how written.


    I would like to pass on an amusing anecdote:

    A teacher of a Spanish course accused one of her students of plagiarism, saying he had downloaded his paper from the Internet. He denied this. “Then how is it,” the teacher asked, “When given an assignment to write an essay in Spanish, you turned one in written in fluent Portuguese?”

  • Kathryn

    I was very impressed with the caller who provided a graded oral opportunity for each student at some point in his class. I recognize teachers and professors are often overworked, but they need to use their intellect to stay a step ahead of their students, and they need the support of their administration to try new models when grading students.

  • Joseph

    Hello, I am a current college student attending a large private university here in Minnesota studying for a liberal arts degree and am working in downtown St. Paul for an internship. Today I had an interesting discussion at lunch on this topic with some of my fellow interns who are engineering students at two separate, large, public universities here in Minnesota. My engineering peers (studying mechanical and civil engineering) acknowledged that they cheat in their classes often and many of their own peers cheat to get by; the classes are so difficult and time consuming that if you don’t cheat, you fail the class and have only accomplished wasting your tuition. Also, they claim they are under such heavy work course work loads that they cheat to just get homework done and save time for other subjects or activities. To quote my friend, “Students are lazy. If you could save time on all the homework you have, why not?”

    I have never cheated myself in my classes; I am an Eagle Scout and try to live my life as ethically and ‘morally-straight’ as I can. However, it appears many of my fellow classmates don’t share this sense of honor. To them, if they can get ahead and pass the class by cheating–why not? To them, none of the topics they are learning or cheating on are important or applicable to real-life; if information is needed, one can look it up on Google and find the answer or needed information. As for ethics, to them ‘the end justifies the means’ to get ahead in the world.

  • Tyler

    I graduated last sping from grad school at UM. In high school in particular (in ‘honors’ classes) my observation about the cheating described on today’s progam was that in the case of my peers ‘cheating’, particularly high-achieving students that didn’t actually NEED to cheat, sharing homework answers or giving inside tips about an exam was a response to busy schedules and lack of investment in the material substantially more than pressure or stress about being the best. As a group, the students in my classes worked together to help each other, even when in many cases this may have been considered cheating. But I don’t believe this phenomenon to be all bad, nor do I see it as a problem with the moral attitudes of the students. The high value that our schools and grading systems place on individual results cultivates an adversarial relationship between students and teachers that naturally results in this type of cheating.

    And it shouldn’t be seen as all bad: students work together as a community in this process – mirroring how the real world works. Maybe we shouldn’t focus so much on why individual students are immoral because they share information and try to help each other and instead we should ask why we’ve created an educational system where individual evaluation and an adversarial teacher/student relationship has come to define everything we do in education.

  • KJ

    I know this may be slightly different than what most people are saying, but I helped others cheat for cash. Granted occasionally I had a formula or two hidden somewhere to help me out, but most of the time I was doing anything that related to cheating it was helping others cheat. For example, I’m really good at constructing research papers. I can write 8 well formatted pages with citations in about an hour. Someone who is not good at this would give me their text book, the assignment description, and ask me to write a paper for them. I saw it as a challenge to write in their style and voice while assuring the student I could write the paper to conform to any desired grade. At the end I get $100-$200 and everyone is happy.

  • Jefferson

    Perhaps people are confused about what is cheating and what is not cheating. Also, we must examine what the main goal of a University education actually is, to learn the material. First of all, cheating during tests is almost non-existent in college…that is the vast majority of your grade and almost no one does that. Second, is it really cheating to teach other students how to solve a problem using your own homework assignment as a reference? If so that defeats the purpose the of the education in the first place, to learn the material. That sort of thing is rampant in engineering courses since it is not always possible to show up at office hours for every class…one person/small group would show up at office hours for a class or two that didn’t conflict with their other classes. Once the material is learned they would share the problem solving method with other students who would in turn teach them methods learned in other classes. Sure the homework assignment was used as a reference but that was only do to the fact that much of the material, especially detailed material for problem solving is not in the books…you must go to office hours to find solutions. The problem is that many of the office hours conflict with other classes/courses that are required for graduation…it is impossible to make it to every course’s office hours (unless you only take 2 or 3 classes at a time which means it would take 6-7 years to graduate). Sorry but students teaching other students is a good thing, even if the homework assignment is used as a reference, both students benefit from the material being exchanged and both learn the material. This method also teaches students to work in teams/groups, this is a very useful skill in life and in a business environment. I think the big problem is that we have a group of liberal arts students judging what is and is not cheating based on writing papers…copying and plagiarizing is cheating when writing papers; it is not cheating to use a homework assignment to teach other students how to solve a math/engineering problem…directly copying doesn’t do you much good anyway since you still have to pass the test which is still the majority of your grade. Also, looking at past tests or homework assignments isn’t cheating either…you still have to understand the concepts the professor is trying to get across…every high level engineering professor changed the test questions every semester; you never got the same exact question on a test but you might get a similar one, which still required you to understand the methods taught in the homework assignments. Even with a couple of past tests you still had to spend 5-6 hours studying in a large group to solve the problems and learn the material…that’s called learning not cheating. Hopefully, this does clarify what is cheating vs learning when comparing a liberal arts perspective vs engineering/science/math perspective.