Cheating on the Rise Among High School Students

A majority of students surveyed admit cheating on a test at least once.

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A new survey of American teenagers finds that academic dishonesty is rampant and getting worse at high schools. A whopping 64 percent of high school students surveyed by the Center for Youth Ethics at the Josephson Institute in Los Angeles said they had cheated on a test at least once in the past year, up from 60 percent in 2004. Thirty-eight percent said they had cheated two or more times, while another 36 percent said they had used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent two years ago. Cheating on homework is also widespread; 82 percent said they had copied another student's work at least once in the past year.

The survey results underscore the pervasiveness of academic dishonesty even as schools employ more sophisticated means to catch cheaters and take a tougher stance to discourage unethical behavior. (U.S. News recently explored the efforts to stop cheating in higher education.) The students' responses raise questions about why cheating is on the rise and whether high schools should emphasize character education. Nearly 30,000 students at 100 randomly selected high schools participated in the survey; all respondents were guaranteed anonymity.

Besides cheating, 30 percent of students said they have stolen from stores. More than 8 in 10 students said they have lied to a parent about something significant. The survey finds that unethical behavior is prevalent at both public and private schools, but in some instances it happens less frequently at private schools and among honor students. Boys are more likely than girls to behave dishonestly, although there is virtually no difference when it comes to cheating.

Among the most troubling findings is that students who engage in dishonest acts still hold a positive view of themselves. For example, 93 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent said that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know." It's not clear how the behavior of public figures, including company executives involved in the financial crisis, has shaped students' cavalier attitudes. Asked if they agreed with the statement that "In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating," 59 percent answered in the affirmative.


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