Cheaters don’t want to ‘be a cheater’

People like to think of themselves as “basically honest,” even though they’re willing to cheat, writes Dan Willingham in An Easy Trick to Reduce Cheating.

An experimenter asked people on the Stanford campus to play a game to determine “the rate of cheating” (or “the number of cheaters”) without knowing who’s “cheating” (“a cheater”).

Subjects were asked to pick a number from 1 to 10, and then were told that if they had picked an even number they would receive $5, but if the number were odd, they would receive nothing.

When the experimenter used the word “cheater” 21% of subjects reported having picked an even number, but when “cheating” was used, 50% did. (Other research has shown that there is a strong bias to pick odd numbers in the task; that’s why the rates are so low.)

It should work with students in middle or high school, Willingham thinks.

In short, the ideal is to remind people of their best side, their good intentions, and then remind them that cheating–sorry, being a cheater–is not compatible with their image of themselves.

At the end of sophomore year in high school, my daughter told me that a classmate had stolen the Spanish teacher’s book, photocopied all the tests and returned the book.  The cheater had given copies of the tests to any student who wanted them. My daughter was in the small minority who refused to cheat. “I would have had to come up with some reason why it was OK to cheat,” she said. “And then I’d have been a cheat and a liar. Why would I do that to myself?”

Ex-superintendent gets 3.5 years for test scheme

Lorenzo Garcia, former superintendent in El Paso, has been sentenced to sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for fraud for manipulating test scores to collect $56,000 in bonuses and misleading the school board to steer a $450,000 no-bid contract to  his mistress.

Garcia, who was hired in 2006, worked with administrators to pre-test 10th graders and assign low scorers to ninth or 11th grade, so their scores wouldn’t be counted in the critical 10th-grade year. After repeating ninth grade, students were moved to 11th grade. Older students were told to drop out and get a GED.

In some cases, when the district needed to improve its graduation rate, it gave students credit for computer-based classes or “turbo-mesters,” which were 90-minute sessions in which students earned a full semester worth of credits.

“One girl got two semesters in three hours, in the last day of school, while her teacher was collecting books,” said former principal Stephen Lane, one of five people allowed to testify before Briones sentenced Garcia.

When Lane protested Garcia’s methods, he was fired and escorted out of the building by police.

High school test scores rose and El Paso’s rating improved from “academically acceptable” in 2005 to “recognized” in 2010. Then someone noticed all those missing 10th graders.

Elite students excuse cheating

Cheating is easy to rationalize, say students at New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High School in the New York Times.

The night before one of the “5 to 10” times he has cheated on a test, a senior at Stuyvesant High School said, he copied a table of chemical reactions onto a scrap of paper he would peek at in his chemistry exam. He had decided that memorizing the table was a waste of time — time he could spend completing other assignments or catching up on sleep.

“It’s like, ‘I’ll keep my integrity and fail this test’ — no. No one wants to fail a test,” he said, explaining how he and others persuaded themselves to cheat. “You could study for two hours and get an 80, or you could take a risk and get a 90.”

A recent alumnus said that by the time he took his French final exam one year, he, along with his classmates, had lost all respect for the teacher. He framed the decision to cheat as a choice between pursuing the computer science and politics projects he loved or studying for a class he believed was a joke.

“When it came to French class, where the teacher had literally taught me nothing all year, and during the final the students around me were openly discussing the answers, should I not listen?” he said.

Stuyvesant students are competing for highly selective colleges. They work very hard in the classes they care about, but try to limit their workload in other classes. Copying homework is considered OK, students told the Times. Cheating on tests requires some extra excuse-making.

In June, 71 juniors were caught texting his each other answers to state Regents exams.

Education and civil rights group charge the elite high schools’ admissions test screens out black and Hispanic students, reports the Times. The Specialized High School Admissions Test is the sole criterion for admission to eight specialized schools.

According to the complaint, 733 of the 12,525 black and Hispanic students who took the exam were offered seats this year. For whites, 1,253 of the 4,101 test takers were offered seats. Of 7,119 Asian students who took the test, 2,490 were offered seats. At Stuyvesant High School, the most sought-after school, 19 blacks were offered seats in a freshman class of 967.

“Stuyvesant and these other schools are as fair as fair can be,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a news conference. “You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school — no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is.”

Why cheat? Kids were ‘dumb as hell’

Atlanta math teacher Shayla Smith gave students test answers because they were “dumb as hell,” according to a former colleague who testified at her hearing. The former fifth-grade teacher denied cheating, but the tribunal recommended her firing, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The teacher, Schajuan Jones, taught 4th grade across the hall from Smith, and said she overheared Smith talking in the hallway with a teacher whose students she had overseen during testing.

“The words were, ‘I had to give your kids, or your students, the answers because they’re dumb as hell,’” Jones said.

The tribunal was considering testimony of cheating in 2010. The year before a state analysis found what was described as a practically impossible frequency of changes from wrong to right in tests proctored by Smith.

A student also testified Smith had pointed to the right answers.

Of nearly 180 Atlanta Public School educators accused of cheating in a state investigation, the district has reported outcomes for 164: 110 have resigned or retired, reports the newspaper. Seventeen were fired after going before the tribunal, 16 were reinstated and 21 tribunals are pending.

Cheating in Scrabble

Yes, a teen-age boy was caught palming the two blank tiles at the 2012 National Scrabble Championship, but cheating is rare in Scrabble, writes Stefan Fatsis, who’s annoyed at all the snickering.

The boy was not “one of the top young Scrabble players” in America, as reported in the press, writes Fatsis. “Rather, he’d gained renown because of a performance at a previous tournament that seemed too good to be true.” That’s why his opponent was watching so closely.

The boy confessed and was ejected from the tournament, a five-day marathon.

Fatsis is the author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players.  I enjoyed the book very much.

Uzbeks block texting on exam day

Uzbek authorities blocked text messaging and mobile internet service during nationwide university entrance exams on Aug 1. While one media network said the telecom system needed repair, Fergana News reported the measure was designed to prevent cheating.

 

Teacher certification fraud charged

Aspiring teachers paid a Memphis school official to find substitutes to take a teacher certification exam, prosecutors charge. Clarence Mumford, 58, is accused of charging $1,500 to $3,000 per test. The scam involved at least 50 teachers and would-be teachers required to pass the PRAXIS in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas from 1995 to 2010, according to the indictment.

Mumford is charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, social security fraud, aggravated identity theft, and fraud in connection with fake ID’s created for the test takers. So far, none of the cheaters has been charged.

Online testing is coming — with glitches

Online testing promises to help teachers hone instruction by providing instant feedback on what students are learning and what they’re missing, notes the Hechinger Report. Online tests also should make it easier to spot patterns that suggest cheating. With backing from the Obama administration and new tests under development, a majority of students could be taking standardized math and English tests online in three years.

Delaware already has moved all state testing online.

 On a recent afternoon at Townsend Elementary School here, a little boy squinted at a computer screen and gripped his mouse. He was stuck. Half of the screen contained an article about rainforests. The other half was filled with questions, some multiple-choice, some not.

One question asked the boy to pick two animals that belonged in the rainforest from a list of pictures and written descriptions. Then he was supposed to drag the animals across the screen onto the rainforest background. Next, he had to move two correct descriptions of rainforest characteristics into boxes.

Test developers hope the next generation of online tests will be more challenging and stimulating.

In these new exams, a student might be asked to use a mouse to move the sides of a shape on screen into an isosceles triangle, highlight the main idea of a passage, or write an essay about two articles supplemented by their own online research.

But Delaware’s current test, which students take three or four times a year, doesn’t break down students’ scores on specific skills. Townsend Elementary also is testing students three times a year on a more sophisticated test that gives teachers feedback on where students are struggling. That means students spend more time taking tests.

Some early adopters are struggling with technical problems.

Wyoming abandoned online testing, after adopting it in 2010, and is back to pencil and paper. The technical problems were overwhelming. Every school was routed through a single, private network, which “collapsed under the weight of more than 80,000 public school students.” In addition, some schools didn’t have enough working computers.

On the other hand, Virginia, which invested $650 million in new technology, has rolled out online testing without major problems.

Cheating goes online

High-tech cheaters are targeting online courses.

Accused of cheating on an online exam, a group of nursing students are suing an Arizona community college district.

Honors Track

In Honors Track, fiction in the new Atlantic, ambitious students form a cheating ring.

WE WERE SEDULOUS. We were driven. Our vocabularies were formidable and constantly expanding. We knew the chemical elements by number and properties, the names and dates of battles in the world’s greatest wars.

We arrived at school early and put in twelve-hour days. Exhaustion was routine. Most of us repelled it with Pepsi or Mountain Dew. Others took a more holistic approach. Neil Casey did a series of deep-breathing exercises; May Wang sipped from a thermos of ginseng tea. Dale Gilman, the vice principal’s son, whom none of the rest of us could stand, rolled his ankles and wrists around while he sat through each class. “It really gets the blood flowing,” he said in his high-pitched voice, even though we never asked him to explain.

. . .  The pamphlets we took home from the Guidance Office showed photographs of trees in a perpetual state of October, and students’ faces laughing under jaunty knit caps.

I liked the story — but it made no sense to have the top students taking “honors calculus” in their junior year.  They’d take AP Calculus as seniors.