Why are so many students cheating?

When a regular reader recently forwarded a link to this Montreal Gazette article titled: “Cheating stats getting out of control,” by Amy Minsky, I could not believe my eyes. Teachers are apparently to blame for the fact that more students than ever are cheating — no matter in what form.

Well, isn’t that convenient! Blame teachers for everything. Make them the scapegoats. Well, sure some teachers could teach better.  But, that is not the issue. Historically, in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, there have always been teachers who didn’t teach well and yet very few students found it necessary to cheat. Moreover, given the present statistics — according to Eric Anderman at Ohio State, 80% of high school students and 75% of college and university students — it appears that no matter how good a teacher is, the students still admit to cheating.

Cheating is a social problem

Meaning, that cheating has now become a social problem. In fact, cheating in all its forms has obviously become a global problem because high marks are being demanded at all costs — no matter what a person’s ability level.

For example, high marks are needed to get into prestigious colleges and universities. High marks are needed to get scholarships. High marks are needed to stay in most programs. And, once a student has graduated from one of those colleges and universities and listed that information on their resume, it no longer matters how they got there or stayed there.

So, let’s admit it. B’s just don’t cut it anymore and C’s — which are supposed to represent “average” — well, you can forget about it. In other words, everyone wants A’s and they (students, their families and employers) obviously no longer care how they get them.

No-fail government policies

So, you would think that governments would be looking for solutions to this problem. But, in some cases, the opposite is actually happening. Take the Ontario McGuinty government, for example, it has implemented what it calls a “success” strategy, which most now refer to as the “no-fail” policy — which is actually going to fail both students and society in the long run. 

Readers can also read more about the no-fail policy from the OCUFA report, as well as from this one at MendEd.  The point is, the Ontario approach not only allows but, in fact encourages, substandard or no work for one reason and one reason alone — to increase the graduation statistics.

In fact, given the link to MendEd, it has obviously gotten so bad that even retired and practicing teachers are starting to complain. Why? Because teachers are being expected to pass students who don’t deserve to pass, either because they haven’t done their work or they have plagiarized. And, yet, given this Gazette article, it is the teachers who are being blamed.

And, what are the solutions proposed in the Gazette article? That teachers not use multiple choice assignments or tests and by teaching students to think critically. Good grief, critical thinking skills ARE being taught and during all my thirty-five years teaching, I never used multiple choice for anything.

A teaching scenario:

Let me give readers an example of social expectations and the kind of demands today’s students put on both themselves and their instructors.

It has been a few years since I retired from teaching university, but I remember the pressure well.  In my undergraduate classes, in a concurrent B.A./B.Sc/B.Ed program, the students had to maintain a 75% average in order to remain in the program. So, while the students felt that pressure, they passed that pressure along to me as the expectation was that I would give everyone high marks.

In fact, I dreaded ever having to give any student a B- or a C. Why? Because they would sit in my office and lash out angrily or even cry and beg me to change an assignment or final mark. Or, I would have their parents calling me “demanding” that I do the same thing.

In each case, I refused because their mark was based on what they had done or not done and to my mind there had to be consequences. Instead, I would suggest they do a “make up” assignment to bring their mark to 75% but no higher — since that would not have been fair to the students who earned a B+ or an A the first time around. Most students completed the extra assignment — and more often than not, it was done well.

However, that is not the end of the pressures a professor can experience regarding final marks. At the internal university level, for example, they are told and expected to submit marks that reflect a bell curve (where there must be some C’s at the one end and some A’s at the other end, with most statistics in the middle B range). So, they are between a rock and a hard place.

In my case, each and every year I would have to write a memo back to the committee on academic standards explaining that the students in my course or courses got marks that were higher than average because they had to maintain that mark to stay in the program.

Finding solutions rather than blame

So, before journalists and researchers start blaming teachers, they need to look at all the facts. Yes, sometimes teachers do threaten or teach badly. And, yes, some teachers do use multiple choice. But, neither are excuses for cheating.

At the end of the day, however, whether we live in China, Canada, the United States or elsewhere, we had better find real social and legislative solutions rather than throw sticks at those on the front lines — the teachers — because our future and that of our children and grandchildren, depends on those solutions.

H/T Mark-Alan. C/P Jack’s Newswatch.