Cheating: today's high school norm?

Melanie Sperling

Whether they’re using cheat sheets or simply looking over at classmates’ papers, studies show that today, more than ever, teenagers feel willing to leave their ethics and morals behind and artificially boost their grades in order to cheat their way towards a better future.

The ubiquitous tenet among teenagers today is that their future success and happiness depends on how well they do in high school and which college they attend. Surveys show that stress on teenagers comes from parents and pressures related to college admissions. The principal message teenagers hear is that going to a brand-name college is the ultimate currency, and the only way to get there is through good grades and a well-built resume.

A survey conducted in 2008 by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics confirms alarming rates of stealing, lying, and cheating among American teenagers. Perhaps what is most disturbing is that “entrenched habits of dishonesty” are evident, while 93% of teenagers report that they are satisfied with their personal ethics and character. Two-thirds of the teens surveyed have cheated in the past year, yet most of them are satisfied with their morals and ethics.

Another recent survey, this one conducted by Who’s Who Among American High School Students, reports that 80% of sixteen to eighteen-year-olds with A or B averages who plan to attend college after their graduation cheated in order to do well in their classes. In fact, the survey states that 95% of the cheaters were not caught. Cheating appears to have become a norm in today’s high schools.

Various incidents reported across the nation support such trends of cheating. In Hanover, New Hampshire, near Dartmouth College, nine high school students were arrested on charges of breaking and entering into their school. They were carrying out a plan to steal keys from teachers’ offices and make copies of their final exams.

In another incident at Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina, ABC News reported that four students were suspended because they entered teachers’ offices in order to make copies of the AP history exam. They used a master key that had been passed on by graduating seniors for years. In certain schools, cheating is simply a part of the establishment.

So what about Wayland High School? A survey of fifteen randomly selected juniors corroborates the national trends. Over 80% of these students admitted to looking at a classmate’s paper during a test or quiz, and 90% admitted to copying classmates’ homework. Some even reported that they have intentionally given wrong answers to other classmates in order to make themselves academically superior.

Today, there is no longer enough focus on honesty, integrity, and other ethical standards. It seems as if the concept of the “American Dream,” that long-held belief that hard work provides opportunity, has been redefined for teenagers today: Do whatever is necessary to achieve.