Camera cell phones, programmable calculators, taps on a desk, fingers through the hair.
Cheating at the high school level takes on many forms. Nowadays students are able to manipulate technology and traditional methods which have forced teachers to battle back with the Internet and philosophy.
“It’s a whole different arena,” said Jack Stafford, South Tahoe High School’s associate principal.
As Stafford put it, ask 10 different people about cheating and 10 different answers will arrive.
Some say the pressure to succeed has increased with colleges accepting fewer candidates and tests increasing in importance. Others believe the availability of teachers, make-up opportunities and summer school has relieved the need to cheat.
Joanne Finkler, an English teacher at South Tahoe High School, begins the early stages of her literature class talking to students about character. A survey is taken. They also discuss a quote about cheating as the way of the world.
“It comes forth that most people have cheated at one time. The pressure is always there but the competition for college slots have intensified,” she said. “It’s more so than when my children came through this school district.”
Two education officials in Douglas County have different opinions. Last October the school board adopted a policy banning students from the use of cell phones, pagers and other devices while on campus.
Board member George Echan said the policy was to enforce “courtesy in a learning environment.”
Barring students from using phones for text messaging during tests was a byproduct.
“I know of no incidence of cheating that prompted the policy,” Echan said.
Although Echan believes the pressure to succeed is no less intense than previous years, he said the opportunities to achieve in the classroom are a lot more accessible.
Roy Casey agrees. As Douglas County School District’s assistant superintendent of personnel services, Casey cites improved teaching strategies and parents who care more about their children’s character than stellar grades as ways that curb cheaters.
“I think that there, quite frankly, is less cheating going on in the system than 20 to 30 years ago,” Casey said.
Ask 17-year-old Alexander Boyd, a South Tahoe High School junior, and a different opinion appears.
“(Students) will find a way, whether people like it or not, they’re going to cheat,” he said, adding “I used to cheat in middle school but in high school you have to study straight. It will eventually catch up to you.”
Most cheating, Boyd said, occurs during multiple choice tests. Students flash the correct choice to others by using relaxed fingers on their face. Others tap a pencil. Some instant message a friend with a cell phone but the answers should come from a student who has had the class, Boyd explained.
While multiple choice tests are tough to defend, English teachers submit papers to Turnitin.com, a Web site that checks for plagiarism.
News of completed and graded papers available for student purchase on the Internet surfaced years ago. Now teachers use Turnitin.com which color codes sections of a paper in reference to the degree of plagiarism.
“I don’t think you can plagiarize with Turnitin.com,” Boyd said. “It basically screens everything you do.”
In another battle front, a newly formed discipline committee at South Tahoe High School is considering changing its cheating policy, which hasn’t been modified in more than a decade.
Stafford, who chairs the committee, said other policies regarding snowball fights, dress codes and cell phone use could also be changed.
If a student is caught cheating for the first time at South Tahoe High School, those involved will receive an F on their test or assignment. A conference with parents will be made.
Under the proposed revised policy parents will immediately be notified, F’s are given, a note is put in the student’s discipline file and the student would be suspended from class for two days.
Stafford is calling other schools for advice on punishment for the second offense.
“We have a whole new set of issues,” Stafford said. “We have cell phones that can take pictures of tests.”
Officials in Lake Tahoe Unified and Douglas County school districts stated there is no increase in cheating offenses. But like sports, where athletes are faced with the easy accessibility of performance enhancing drugs, the decision to cheat is always there.
Students like freshman Cameron Sharpe have decided to keep on the straight and narrow.
“There’s no use cheating,” he said. “You’re going to get caught anyways for the most part. At least I do.”
– E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org.