When high achievers are the cheaters

Feb. 13, 2003, midnight | By Tina Peng | 18 years, 7 months ago

Upper-level students break the rules to make the grades

Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.

Students in advanced classes, especially those in the Magnet Program and CAP, cheat out of desperation and a desire to fulfill high expectations. This tactic is harmful both to all students and to cheaters' futures, say peers, teachers and administrators such as Assistant Principal Linda Wanner, who fears the problem is pervasive and is spreading an Enron mentality.

Mitch began to cheat when he entered the Magnet and attributes his cheating mainly to academic demands. "There's so much pressure on you to get good grades," he says. "Parents expect you to get as much out of [the Magnet] as you can, and the only proof that you've actually learned something, as they see it, is your report card."

Senior Nardos Bellete, whose schedule is a mix of honors, AP and on-level classes, has noticed a discrepancy among students' attitudes toward cheating and agrees with Mitch that the impetus to cheat is largely stress-based. "When you're in honors or AP, everyone feels there's so much pressure that they need to cheat," she says, adding that the atmosphere is "so different" in regular classes because students don't find cheating necessary.

Students in advanced classes who feel that they must succeed at any cost can be insecure about their academic capabilities, according to English teacher Lawrence Fogel-Bublick. Fogel-Bublick, who teaches ninth-grade Special Alternative Reading Class (SPARC) and eleventh-grade honors English, says, "I feel that my honors students cheat much more than my SPARC students." Honors students, he says, "take the easy way out."

Teachers are largely helpless to prevent in-class cheating, says Magnet math teacher Eric Walstein. Either they can't prove a student is acting dishonestly or the student's parent will refuse to help rectify the situation, he says. He cites an incident at the beginning of May wherein the father of a student who copied a paper off the Internet threatened to sue the school for defamation when his son was accused of cheating.

In the end, says Walstein, the most effective way to prevent cheating is to maintain an atmosphere of trust and handle what cases occur without disrupting the rest of the class. "Can I guarantee that all the kids I've ever had have never cheated? Of course not. The question is, how do you deal with it? I'm not going to close up the whole operation because one or two kids are cheating. I'd much rather have the trust of the many," he says.

Magnet senior Sam Goldman, who was suspended last year for trading AP World History work with his peers, agrees that singling out a few miscreants for punishment will be ineffective. "Even suspending the students and making an example of them did not begin to stop the problem," he says. "But cheating is such a large problem that for students to not cheat is almost taking them out of the competition."

Mitch no longer cheats as frequently as he did in past years and says he curtailed his academic dishonesty when he realized the futility of his actions. "I don't think most of the people realize that if you do get that A or B [by cheating], you're really just hurting yourself," he says. "If you get credit for a class but you don't get anything out of it, you might as well just drop it."

Wanner believes that students who cheat with impunity may encounter the same fate as the top executives whose corporate scandals have made recent newspaper headlines. "People who cheat and get away with it will continue to do it and do it in larger ways," she says.

Bellete, too, envisions a somewhat bleak future for the high-school cheater. "It really scares me, because if this does continue, what have we learned at all?" she asks. "It's all good to cheat on your science homework today, but what happens if you work for a biotech firm tomorrow?"

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Tina Peng. Tina is a very sagely senior who likes journalism and other things. She cringes when she thinks of her avidly pro-Backstreet Boys bio of last year, but hopes that that will have been forgotten by now. Tina would like to grow up and become a … More »

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