Examining the cheating policy at WHS


Credit: Alex Janoff

A graphing calculator and scantron sheets. Many teachers find cheating at WHS to be a prevalent and important but not an extremely widespread issue. “I think that [in] high schools in general, teenagers cheat,” WHS science Department Head Kenneth Rideout said.

Madeline Maurer and Alex Janoff

As you stroll into your first-period class after just barely catching your bus, you get the impending feeling that you’re forgetting something. You’re sure you didn’t leave anything at home, so what could you be missing? You tuck your bag under your desk as usual. Suddenly, it hits you – in your rush to finish your English paper, you completely forgot to do your math homework. Your heart drops to the pit of your stomach. What are you going to do? The kid sitting next to you is in your math class. Should you ask to copy their homework, or should you just take a zero? Is cheating on a homework assignment really all that bad?

According to the student handbook, Wayland High School commits itself to ensure that students submit work that they completed themselves – or contributed well if it’s a group project – and that their sources are well-credited.

All of the departments at WHS follow this outline, sometimes tweaking it slightly in order to best fit their curriculum. History Department Head Kevin Delaney notes that on minor infractions, teachers can use their own judgment regarding punishment.

“Teachers will exercise discretion on first infractions if it’s a lower-level incident such as a copied homework answer,” Delaney said.

Many teachers regard homework as supplementary material to lectures and work completed in class. Thus, they tend to see cheating on homework as a punishment in itself.

“There’s incentive for doing homework,” math Department Head Barbara Coughlin said. “When you do your homework, you do better on your test. You learn more when you do [your homework].”

Despite teachers at WHS seeing homework as beneficial to a high school education, a surveyed majority of students who do cheat or have done so in the past still cheat on such assignments. Of 72 students surveyed, 79.2 percent who reported that they had cheated on an assignment admitted that said assignment was homework. Coughlin acknowledges that it is difficult to manage cheating on homework because it occurs outside the classroom.

“Part of that is I have no control over [cheating on homework],” Coughlin said. “I have control over what happens in my classroom. I don’t have control over what you do at home or in the cafeteria.”

Science Department Head Kenneth Rideout furthers Coughlin’s point. He agrees that cheating will tend to happen because students are simply able to cheat.

“I think that [in] high schools in general, teenagers cheat,” Rideout said. “I mean, people cheat. That’s a fact. They’ve done all these psychological studies [about cheating]. If you make it easy for people to cheat, people tend to cheat.”

While minor offenses are handled by just the teacher or the Department Head, more deliberate and widespread issues are brought up with the administration and are handled in accordance with the teacher, the Department Head and the offender’s parents.

“More severe first offenses like plagiarism [go] directly to [administration], and parents are notified,” Delaney said. “In addition to earning no credit, of course, there is an additional penalty invoked as determined by [the] administration.”

Administration crafts responses to cheating and plagiarism depending on the situation. Generally, they intend to educate the offender as well as enforce a punishment to make sure the action doesn’t repeat itself.

“We want to make sure that whatever response we have is meaningful in terms of the educational piece but also most likely punitive so that we are making sure that there’s very little chance of that happening again,” Principal Allyson Mizoguchi said.

Mizoguchi notes that including administration generally denotes seriousness to the situation.

“Whatever conversation the administration has with the student and the family is generally one that the teacher has already had with the student and the family,” Mizoguchi said. “It’s sort of a way to elevate awareness, but [it] also increases the seriousness of the situation.”

While the circumstances under which people do cheat are often out of a teacher’s control, some take steps to lead students towards honest work. Everyone is familiar with students sitting in spread-out seats during tests and quizzes in order to prevent copying, but teachers may also use how they approach an assignment themselves to nudge students in the direction of candor. One of the ways in which teachers may do this is to give a few different tests to their classes that will have the same material but with different answers. This makes it a bit more difficult for students who have already taken the test to give other people the answers.

“[For] the tests, it’s just a lot of institutional procedures like try[ing] to give all the tests on the same day for all your sections, and if you can’t do that, then rotate through. You [can] have very similar questions [that] are slightly different that happen on a different day,” Rideout said. “Some years, [there are] sections that are really far apart in the day, and you start figuring out that the last block kids had heard about questions from the first block. Then, you might actually do that within the same day.”

The way in which teachers grade assignments can also make cheating more difficult. According to Rideout, the data-oriented method of grading lab reports can limit students’ ability to take their response from another source given that the work they did in class themselves is so important to the assignment.

“I think [as far as] the grading policy for the lab reports, [I] make it more about their actual data and how they’re treating their data and how they’re conforming to the lab report procedure,” Rideout said. “I think [I] probably have fewer [cheating] issues than, say, people writing essays in other departments.”

One of the reasons for the cheating policy is to prepare students for the future. Teachers hope that students develop good habits while in their classes, but they understand that mistakes are a part of learning.

“It’s better to make a mistake here than to do it in college,” language Department Head Melissa Bryant said.

On top of teaching their subjects themselves, part of a high school teacher’s role is to encourage effective study habits that will help later in kids’ academic careers. That’s one reason why teachers at WHS discourage cheating on homework assignments – students don’t get anything out of the practice if they cheat.

“As high school teachers, part of what we’re trying to do is teach [students] how to study and teach [students] how to learn,” Coughlin said.

One reason students may cheat is to keep their grades up; however, they risk getting caught and bringing their grade down in doing so. The relationship between grading stress and cheating brings some questions to the table about the purpose of school and the weight of grades.

“On some level, at some point in your life, probably everybody’s cheated,” Coughlin said. “Then the question is: how do [students] value it? What does that really mean if kids in high school are saying that they think cheating is just a part of getting by, that it’s a part of the high school experience? That’s upsetting to me. That’s when you say, ‘How do we unpack that whole philosophical statement about [if it’s] all about the grade?’ What’s your goal for your days in these halls? What are we all trying to get out of it?”

Ultimately, some teachers at WHS understand that students will make mistakes. It’s a part of life and the learning process.

“In the end, we realize that kids can make bad decisions at times, and we want both appropriate consequences and ultimately a learning experience to result,” Delaney said.