The infamous cheating ring at Palo Alto High started in 2012 with a group of sophomores. Motivated by the pressure to excel and overwhelmed by difficult classes, at least 20 students turned their backs on morals.
By memorizing questions for tests and compiling the answers in a Google Doc, the students were able to achieve high marks in notoriously difficult classes such as AP U.S. History, AP Calculus and Economics with only a fraction of the work.
The cheating culture at Palo Alto High School goes far beyond isolated “cheating rings.” Administration and community alike are well-aware that countless minor cheating incidents occur every year. Among students, it’s a common sentiment that cheating is a fact of life, though most agree it has a negative effect on the classroom.
An environment that pushes ethically-sound, moral students to break the rules is to blame, and a conscious effort needs to be made in order to change the overemphasis on grades and college admissions. In order to accomplish this, schools must change curriculum to value learning over grades, and encourage students to report cheating.
In this academically-driven and high pressure environment, many find themselves looking for a competitive edge, and if popular belief is everyone cheats, few are willing to get left behind.
This mentality is how many students justify their transgressions, dismissing their cheating as a necessary evil. In a bubble full of high-achieving, ambitious students, competition is hard enough without giving others a head start in the race to college.
In order to fix this, schools should change their curriculum to be more real-world based, rather than treating every class as another check mark necessary in order to get into college. If students aren’t going to remember the information you’re teaching them a week after the test, what’s the point in teaching it?
By focusing less on memorizing unnecessary lists, and replacing busy work with complex, hands-on and comprehension-based activities, classes will be able to mimic a more realistic real-world environment, thus giving students the skill set they need to succeed. Rather than utilizing quizzes and tests to determine students knowledge, interactive activities like fish bowls and simulations allow students to think critically and outside of the box, rather than regurgitating definitions memorized from a quizlet.
In order to deter people from cheating, punishments are vital. Explicitly stating what is considered cheating, and publicizing the direct consequences/ punishments ahead of time acts as a crucial deterrent. To make students comfortable enough to report cheating and contact authorities, both teachers and administration have to work to destigmatize the mindset around reporting.
In essence, students simply want to succeed. This is a direct reflection of the school system, and how rather than rewarding effort and knowledge, grades tend to be a reflection of a student’s ability to anticipate what’s on the test or their ability to regurgitate a list of facts.
Organized cheating rings seem like an extreme example, but academic dishonesty takes place in countless forms on a daily basis at Palo Alto High School. From copying a friend’s homework to finding out test questions ahead of time, it’s crucial that we shift to prioritizing learning over grades. To reverse the cheating culture at Paly, it is vital administration and peers alike work together by improving curriculum and holding peers accountable.