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You Cheat!

 two teens passing test answers in class

Savvy educators offer advice for keeping kids honest.

What goes on in the mind of a cheating student? Most educators would love to peek inside those young brains to see what motivates the eye wandering or cell-phone sneaking, in an attempt to prevent it.

Researcher and expert on cheating Eric Andermann, chair of the Department of Educational Studies and Professor of Educational Psychology at Ohio State University, has found that the goal that students are encouraged to work toward significantly affects whether they cheat or not.

“If the test is seen by students as the most important part of schooling, then cheating will be more likely to occur,” says Andermann. “The research is quite clear about this.” While testing will always be a necessity in schools, there are ways for teachers to mitigate cheating. If they “really stress the value of the content, the importance of the content, understanding the content, and don't emphasize social comparison (i.e., don't point out who knows more or less than others), cheating will be less likely to occur,” he says.

Some students don’t even realize they’re cheating. More than 23 percent of teens admitted in a Common Sense Media poll that they don’t think it’s cheating to look at notes on a cell phone during a test.

But you can help them understand that it is, says Andermann, by teaching students about proper and improper use of the Internet and technology, as well as plagiarism from online sources. “Students are so used to gathering information via the Internet that they often don't know that it may be wrong,” he says.

Of course, there are some students who will still cheat. Fortunately, educators have strategies for keeping them honest. We asked your colleagues for their best advice in an online discussion. Read on for their tips.

Review Expectations

The first assignment of the semester is a plagiarism Webquest I found on the Internet (Google “PAMS Plagiarism WebQuest”). Students complete a paper answer sheet for 100 quiz points. If a parent signs the completed sheet, the score increases by 15 points. I keep the sheet on file. If I can prove plagiarism on a later assignment, the student receives a zero and detention. Parents tend to stop fussing when I pull out the answer sheet with their signature.
Stephanie L., Jasper, Tennessee

Mess with the Tests

Make multiple versions of the test so kids cannot copy from one another’s papers during the test.
Carol S., Belgrade, Minnesota

When you make multiple versions, always use different colored paper. That way, if you ever don’t have time to create multiple versions, you can use different colored paper and students will not know whether there is only one version of the test.
David T., San Jose, California

I punch holes on the sides of my tests. When I wander around the room as tests are being taken, I look to see the surface of the desk through the holes. If I see a paper instead of the desk, I know the study guide is hidden underneath.
Spencer H., Brentwood, California

Try a Cheat-Proof Assessment Model

Use performance-based assessment. Students may work cooperatively during the planning process but each person receives an individual presentation and/or written grade. It’s usually easy to determine the amount of learning and effort the student has as I work with him or her on projects and listen to presentations.
Elle G., Louisville, Kentucky

Give Them the Crib Sheet

Nearly all of my tests are open note and open book as my questions are usually essay questions asking students to apply what they should know, evaluate what they have read, and synthesize material. For example, they might have to compose a paragraph that contains at least three quotes that point out a personality trait of a character I choose. On the rare occasions that part of the tests are simple recall, I allow students to bring a 3×5 note card with any notes they can squeeze on it. The effort to go over material and decide what might be important means they are actually studying! I always tell students I do not expect them to memorize material but I expect them to know HOW and WHERE to find an answer quickly.
Elaine F., Defiance, Ohio

Choose Your Position Carefully

I monitor test-takers from the back of the classroom to get a “bird’s eye” view of the whole class and catch the stray eyeball or suspicious hand movements.
Ed G., Mountain Top, Pennsylvania

Never leave your desk during a test. Last year, when I went to a student’s desk to answer a question, it became “open season” for all students who were at my back.
Connie C., Louisville, Kentucky

Cut It Off at the Source

I make my students responsible for keeping their papers covered. Whenever I see answers uncovered, I quietly place a small, red square of construction paper on the student’s desk as a warning and reminder. If a second square is placed on the same student’s desk, a point is deducted.
Susan R., Olive Branch, Mississippi

Fight Copying with Technology

My eighth-grade students would copy work before school and at morning break. So I began using my blog to post questions related to readings (Click here for an example). Replies are time-stamped and can be easily compared. Soon the copying was almost eliminated.
Chris M., Lakewood, California

Trick ’Em

I made copies of students’ test papers, recorded the grades, and then handed them back saying, "I did not have time to grade this set of papers so this will be a test of honesty for you." Those who self-corrected and came up with the same grade earned on the copies, got an A regardless of what had been earned. Those who cheated, earned a zero.  The graded papers were then handed back. Since they never knew if this would be done again, cheating was diminished. I made phone calls to every parent and let them know the results and asked them to praise their honesty or talk about cheating.  There are lots of ways to try and eliminate cheating, but talking about character and learning for life was stressed.
Cecelia S., Greensboro, Georgia

Make a Statement

When I discovered cheating, usually on a homework assignment, I divided the grade among the number of children whose assignments were identical. I told them that if they were willing to share the work, they should be willing to share the grade. Word got around.
Christine S., Buffalo, New York

Give them a Second Chance

Take the student out into the hall and say, “Charles, I don’t think you are ready to take this test today, are you? I’m going to have you take a makeup test in a day or two. This time, I want you to study and be prepared. I need your honest answers so I can give you a fair grade.” This establishes trust as a caring teacher, one who can be approached for help.
Robert E., San Francisco, California

I grade the work. Then I put a zero on the paper and ask them to get a parent to sign it and to write a page explaining what they intend to do to correct the problem. When I get both, I reinstate the grade. This way, the parents have no reason to complain about a zero, they just have to sign the paper, and the student is empowered to choose his or her own consequences.
Joseph C., Covington, Virginia

When in Doubt, Let it Go...

If you are not absolutely certain that cheating occurred, let it go. There is nothing worse than a dispute about whether a student cheated or not. Make a mental note to watch the suspect more closely in the future.
Carol S., Belgrade, Minnesota


All images by David Clark