Researcher Launches Experiment to Stop High School Cheating

Six schools in Connecticut are participating in the three-year pilot study.

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Six high schools in Connecticut have agreed to be part of an unusual experiment to keep students from engaging in acts of academic dishonesty such as plagiarizing an essay or cheating on a test, the Hartford Courant reports. Jason Stephens, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut who is described in the Courant as "a rising star in the field of academic dishonesty," is conducting the three-year pilot study. He declined to identify the high schools. He would say only that two are in a wealthy suburb, two are in a middle-class neighborhood, and two are in an urban district. In each setting, one school will serve as a control group and the other will test his anticheating ideas.

According to Stephens, students are driven to cheat when schools put too much emphasis on acing exams and amassing a high grade-point average. Take that pressure away, he says, and students are less likely to engage in such conduct. Some critics may consider his solution a bit naive, but it's difficult to dismiss entirely his analysis of why students cheat. Several of the most publicized cheating scandals this past school year involved students at highly competitive high schools. At Chapel Hill High School in North Carolina, where the competition to get into Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill is described as ruthless, school officials in February busted a cheating ring involving as many as 30 students after learning that some had broken into a teacher's classroom at night and stolen a midterm exam for an Advanced Placement government class. The cheating had reportedly gone on for years, with graduates from one class passing a stolen master key to students in incoming classes. In a separate incident, six sophomores from Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, a top-tier private school, were expelled and more than a dozen other students were threatened with suspension for stealing Spanish and history tests in a scheme that involved distracting teachers during class.

Stephens, who believes that cheating has become an epidemic, has asked teachers and students at the six Connecticut high schools to come up with a plan to promote academic honesty. According to the Courant, the plans will most likely be a combination of an honor code, a public-awareness campaign about the importance of academic honesty, and a list of consequences for students caught cheating. If the experiment is a success, the program might expand to other high schools and eventually be developed into "an anticheating tool kit" for high schools nationwide.

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