The Danger of Academic Dishonesty


“Cheating” by Sclafani is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Catherine Auerbach

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, students have had to adapt to online learning in lieu of regular in-person school. Remote learning has been a challenge for many as students take on AP courses, extracurriculars, and the stress of our world right now all from their bedrooms. With this increased stress has also come an increase in academic dishonesty among students. With no proctors for tests and the answers to AP questions available on study websites like Quizlet and Brainly, cheating on tests has become much easier. And for many struggling with mental health issues, home responsibilities, or stress from other classes, finding time to study adequately can be difficult. Cheating can often feel like an easy way out. 

While it may help a student’s grades temporarily, these hacks build poor academic habits. I spoke with AP Chemistry teacher Travis Lankford about his experience with academic dishonesty in his class this semester. 

It could be my own naivete, but I think [cheating] has increased with the pressure of the semester coming to an end, SATs coming up, and a creeping malaise of disengagement and apathy,” Travis shared. 

AP US Government and Politics teacher Michele Balsam has noticed similar behaviors with her students. She reported that many students who’ve owned up to cheating have shared they’ve felt stressed, depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, and generally like they’re failing to live up to expectations. 

WESS Juniors at WESS are under an immense amount of stress this year and it can often feel like the most one can do is the bare minimum. 

“Unfortunately, personal challenges are no excuse for cheating. Academic dishonesty is not, nor is it ever, the solution,” Michele said. “We are an incredibly understanding school and staff with policies in place that make it so that students should never have their academic grade impacted by the lateness of their work, and we also have reengagement policies so that students need not feel like their learning begins and ends with one assessment.” 

Although it can be a hard pill to swallow, acknowledging and accepting one’s unpreparedness for an assignment can help them to create a better plan for future assignments, encouraging real growth from our mistakes rather than the continuation of bad academic habits. 

During remote learning, teachers have also struggled to find platforms that test students effectively without infringing on their privacy or making tests more difficult than they need be. 

Even though there are programs that can effectively stump students from cheating during online exams, some teachers do not want to implement these methods. “I do not support the intrusive programs, such as Lockdown Browser, which are extremely problematic for numerous extremely technical reasons that ultimately amount to a gross breach of a student’s right to privacy,” Travis said. 

While programs like Lockdown Browser can seem like a breach of privacy, the lack of a proctor often takes away student accountability for their cheating.

Michele tried a different strategy to LockDown Browser. She administered exams on the platform Quizizz, and gave each question a time limit. Her hope was that students would be able to answer questions in time if they had studied enough, while not giving students enough time to Google answers while testing. 

However, many students objected to testing through this platform, arguing that the timed questions worsened their performance and stressed them out. Upon switching to testing through the College Board’s website AP Classroom, students in AP Government and Politics have shown increased satisfaction with test-taking. However, Michele reported a clear increase in cheating among students once she switched to the site, which times tests as a whole, without timing each question. 

“The question becomes for me as an educator, do I prioritize the website that more students felt comfortable expressing their learning on, or do I prioritize the one that limited academic dishonesty?” Michele shared. “For now I’ve chosen to go with the former, because for me that’s more important than catching academic dishonesty.” 

There is some risk, however, that a lack of consequences for academic dishonesty will encourage students to build a habit out of it, leaving them unprepared for the impending days when they will be held accountable for their actions. 

“I think if students become reliant on cheating rather than learning both the content and the key study skills, they will do markedly worse on the AP [exam] than they’ve done in class,” Michele explained. “However, in the long term I’m worried about students developing lifelong bad habits that will not prepare them to be real working adults.”  

Cheating is not something taken lightly in college. At many universities, cheating can be followed by academic probation, a “proverbial scarlet letter,” according to Travis. 

“[Some] colleges won’t accept cheaters and once a teacher knows you cheated, you are branded as such (especially if you deny it when there is clear proof of academic dishonesty),” he revealed. “Lying follows you in life; your word is something sacred and if people, companies, friends, and/or family cannot trust your word then what are you truly worth? In the end, you ultimately are lying to yourself, too.” 

Fundamentally, while cheating may seem like a quick and easy solution in the short term, it prevents one from building the habits necessary for the days after we graduate, when life may not be as accepting of our faults.