Academic Honesty Committee Conversations

A new committee of teachers has convened at Paly to discuss changes to the current academic honesty policy. The committee will clarify the current policy and make revisions to the consequences of cheating.

“Our goal is to clarify to students, parents and teachers what the academic policy is going to be like,” history teacher and committee member Adam Yonkers said. “There is a lot of murkiness around the academic honesty policy now. By being more clear with our policies, everyone can be on the same page.”

The committee, including teachers Kelli Hagen, Radu Toma, Kirk Hinton, Adam Yonkers, Grant Blackburn and principal Phil Winston, is discussing ways to prevent students from cheating instead of merely punishing them.

“We want the policy to do what it’s supposed to do, like teach kids how to cite, or what was wrong about what they did,” Yonkers said.

Though Winston says no concrete changes have been made to the policy yet, he also believes the policy should teach students more than punish them.

“We’re aiming for the policy to be more interventionist rather than strict,” Phil Winston said. “It is hard for a student to come back from a zero. That student would lose motivation and a sense of well-being.”

The current academic policy stipulates that teachers use “professional judgment” to determine if cheating has occurred. The first time a student is caught cheating, the student receives a zero on the assignment and the dean logs the offense in a discipline file. A second offense results in the student being dropped from the class with an F. A third offense results in suspension. In each of these stages, “counseling is provided for the student and family to find acceptable ways to meet course obligations,” according to the current Academic Honesty policy.

“Students made the current policy some twenty years ago because they were sick and tired of other kids cheating,” assistant principal Kathie Lawrence said.

Currently, there are very few repeat offenders who cheat after getting caught. But Winston says even if the new policy created by the Academic Honesty Committee is less lenient, the number of cheaters will probably not rise.

“The world is very different from what it was twenty years ago,” Winston said. “With the advent of technology, there are more ways to cheat. The current policy is simply devastating to students and is not as supportive as it could be.”

According to a poll done by The Campanile in a 2002 issue, reported by staff writer Sarah Rizk, of the 447 students polled at Paly, 73 percent indicated they copied homework. Since the administration only filed cheating offenses for less than one percent of all students that year according to assistant principal Doug Walker in a previous Campanile article, most students that year were not caught cheating.

How do the numbers compare to the situation today?

On Facebook, numerous groups exist where students gather to talk about homework or tests. Some current students get tests from previous years’ classes via email or chat about test problems with friends in different periods, according to one anonymous student.

“It’s all about getting into college,” the anonymous student said. “The probability of getting caught cheating is really small. Would you rather get into college with straight A’s through cheating, or struggle through school through your own work getting B’s?”

Guidance counselor Selene Singares disagrees with that logic.

“Putting moral questions aside, if you got into college through cheating, how will you get through college and real life?” Singares said. “You can’t always cheat through life. The main person you’re hurting through cheating is yourself.”

Last year, The Campanile published the opinion of an anonymous writer who proclaimed to be a cheater in the article “Why I cheat.” The student thought the tests he cheated on were useless, so cheating on the material would have no impact on the student. For example, copying a list of answers to problems like 1+1 would be material the writer would cheat on.

According to another anonymous student, the current policy’s consequences did not deter that student from cheating.

“The consequences only apply to those who get caught,” the student said. “If you don’t get caught, cheating is okay.”

Another anonymous student agrees.

“The smartest kids are those who cheat and work hard,” another anonymous student said. “The mediocre students just work, and the dumb kids just cheat.”

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