School cheating: Smartphones make it easier, but schools push back

The text or Snapchat message comes to the high school junior’s smartphone at 10 p.m.

“Hey, can you send me the Spanish homework?” It’s a fellow student, asking his friend to send a picture of the finished assignment so he can copy it.

“That happens a lot,” said Emma Kane, Fairmont High School’s student body president.

Cheating on school homework is certainly not a new phenomenon, but 2018 technology makes it easier. And Kane said it’s not just struggling students copying work, but also high-achievers who are over-scheduled with sports, clubs and jobs.

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“If you’re super, super busy and a teacher assigns a ton of homework that night, you’re in an ‘uh-oh’ moment,” Kane said. “You can either stay up all night, or get it from someone else. A lot of times some kids push more toward getting it from someone else.”

Local school officials had a wide range of opinions on high-tech cheating. Superintendents at Franklin and Newton schools said it’s not a big concern in their buildings. Carroll High School principal Matt Sableski called it “a huge issue,” and Centerville teachers union President Brian Cayot said teachers know it happens, “probably more than we want to admit.”

Two different groups

Cayot and Kane said some academic high performers choose to copy homework if they’re out of time because they’re too worried about their grade-point averages and unwilling to take the zero that would come from not turning in the assignment.

“I would almost argue that it’s more pervasive in the honors-level classes,” Cayot said. “They are under a different set of pressures. But it comes down to building character and instilling in them the importance of ethics and doing your own work.”

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Ayyoub Muhammed, a standout student at Dayton’s Thurgood Marshall High School, said another group that falls into the pattern of cheating are students who are struggling and worried what their peers will think.

“I think the main reason people do that is because they’re afraid to ask for help in the middle of class, or ask the teacher for extra tutoring,” said Muhammed, a senior. “They’re scared of looking like they’re dumb.”

How schools react

Mad River schools Superintendent Chad Wyen said his district has policies to deal with academic dishonesty, but he said the issue is “difficult to manage” given the myriad ways students communicate “in an electronic platform that has become their reality.”

Centerville schools spokeswoman Sarah Swan said that same technology can help schools identify cheating, as teachers can randomly change the sequence of questions for individual students. Alter High School and the Greene County Career Center were among several schools that said they use and other tools to detect student plagiarism.

Cayot said there can be a fine line between cheating, which educators do not condone, and collaboration, which is near the top of the list of skills that schools want students to develop.

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“Students share information all the time,” said Xenia High School principal Hank Jackoby. “Our teachers tell students when it is OK to collaborate and when it isn’t.”

Ted Holop, principal at Xenia’s Warner Middle School, said smartphone apps can be a big homework help if used correctly. He cited Photomath as a good way to check students’ work on math problems. Thurgood Marshall senior Kierre Dewberry said students can use YouTube, Khan Academy, Quizlet and other websites when they get stuck.

“There’s no reason you should fail chemistry” given all the resources online, Dewberry said.

Not just worksheets

Trotwood interim superintendent Tyrone Olverson said “shame on us” if educators assign work that’s so general that students can copy without being caught.

“As a student, if it’s not at all specific to me or doesn’t have me engaged in the work, I’m going to take (my friend’s) work and be done with it … who’s the smart one there? The student,” Olverson said. “It goes back to the whole notion of engagement and enjoyment of learning. We need to look at a lot more individualized learning.”

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Kettering schools spokeswoman Kari Basson said teachers “really have to look at the type of questions they are asking … things that require students to think critically, not just a question that can easily be looked up on Google.”

Bellbrook, Oakwood and Troy educators agreed, saying assignments need to focus on higher-level thinking – less on what facts kids know and more on how students can apply what they know. A side benefit is that those types of exercises are harder to copy.

“Some of our language arts students have individualized vocabulary assignments that are based on (ability levels),” Bellbrook Superintendent Doug Cozad said. “Our math assignments often involve watching an instructional video with practice problems integrated within the video.”

Making good choices

Sableski, the Carroll principal, said a lot of cheating “stems from the pressure kids feel to succeed,” adding that his school is “constantly looking at new ways to keep kids honest.”

Springboro curriculum director Andrea Cook said those high-achieving students who copy homework are hurting themselves twofold. They’re skipping work on important material, but she added that homework usually accounts for a very small percentage of a class grade, so that rule-breaking probably doesn’t help their GPA much.

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“If the student’s getting A’s on their homework and then they get a not-so-stellar grade on the test, it becomes pretty obvious who is truly doing the work and who is taking the easy way out,” Cayot said.

School leaders from Springboro, New Lebanon and the Miami Valley Career Tech Center said cheating students are referred to administrators for punishment. Oakwood High School Principal Paul Waller said his school educates students “on the importance of making ethical decisions,” and Warren County Career Center Superintendent Rick Smith said the school “makes it clear to the students that cheating/copying will not be tolerated.”

But Cayot said despite that, “Some kids are going to cheat.” Cedar Cliff Superintendent Chad Mason said in this age of technology, he doesn’t believe the amount of cheating has changed.

“The change is in the manner in which cheating is carried out,” he said.

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