Most High-School Students Cheat

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Many high-school students have a skewed view of what constitutes cheating and the vast majority have cheated themselves, according to a new study out of one Midwestern school.

The findings, while based on a small sample of 100 students, support a growing body of research showing that most students cheat and that the line between cheating and not-cheating is blurry.

"Students generally understand what constitutes cheating, but they do it anyway," said study researcher Kenneth Kiewra, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "They cheat on tests, homework assignments and when writing reports. In some cases, though, students simply don't grasp that some dishonest acts are cheating."

In their survey, detailed in the current edition of the journal Mid-Western Educational Researcher, Kiewra and his colleagues found that even when students knew an act was cheating, they did it anyway.

Among the results:

  • 89 percent said glancing at someone else's answers during a test was cheating, but 87 percent said they had done that at least once.
  • 94 percent said sharing answers with a classmate during a test was cheating, but 74 percent admitted to doing it.

In other circumstances, agreement about cheating was less clear-cut:

  • 47 percent said providing test questions to a fellow student who had yet to take a test was academically dishonest; nearly seven out of 10 admitted to doing so.
  • 62 percent said doing individual take-home tests with a partner was cheating; 51 percent had done so.
  • 23 percent said doing individual homework with a partner was dishonest; 91 percent had done so.
  • 39 percent said writing a report based on the movie instead of reading the book wasn't cheating; 53 percent had done so.

The findings back up previous research that some 80 percent to 90 percent of high-school students cheat before graduation, according to a 2007 study by Eric Anderman, a professor of educational policy and leadership at Ohio State University. Another study by Anderman showed that about 21 percent of middle-school students who say cheating is unacceptable still do it.

Why kids cheat

Scientists aren't sure why kids cheat. But they do know:

  • Boys tend to cheat more than girls;
  • Type-A personalities are more likely to cheat;
  • There's no strong link between cheating and moral development;
  • And cheating increases when students transition from middle school to high school, according to Anderman.

It's during these transitions that teachers start to put more focus on performance and getting better grades, factors found to be linked with more cheating, Anderman said in a press statement.

How to nip cheating in the bud

More discussion and rule enforcement is needed to un-blur the lines in students mind about academic dishonesty, Kiewra said.

"Based on our findings, teachers should spell out for students what constitutes cheating. If a third of students are taking credit for ideas of others, then it's time to make cheating actions clear," Kiewra said. "Teachers also need to be more vigilant about policing and sanctioning cheating because just knowing what cheating is, is not enough. Students will do it anyway, if they can get away with it."

Others have suggested teachers should focus on the importance of learning at an individual level, rather than on grades.

"It doesn't help when teachers always talk about 'the test' and reminding students that something 'will be on the test.' The goal should be learning, and not test-taking," Anderman said.

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Live Science Staff
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