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Cheating in high school and collage may bring predictable and perhaps justifiable results — a zero on the assignment or failure of an entire course. However, any consequence should be evaluated by its success in reducing cheating, and cheating seems to be increasing at all levels of education.

As a society, the United States has been raising the ante for good grades for many decades, and cheating has been viewed simplistically and traditionally by punishing bad behavior. But people are not born with a complete sense of responsibility. It is acquired.

As children grow to adults, good parenting calls for an expectation that children will act like children and exhibit some irresponsible behavior.

Good teaching requires similar expectations. Discipline, rather than punishment, is the best approach. Discipline implies intervention in a manner that teaches, while punishment is merely doing bad things to someone when they do bad things. It’s a form of revenge.

Well-conceived character education programs such as The Six Pillars of Character suggested by Character Counts serve to place development of many virtues without over-emphasizing one.

Before adopting a policy of an automatic zero for cheating, consider the disastrous effects of zeros on grades. Also, teachers should consider that students are in school to be educated and automatic consequences deprive students of the primary purpose of schools.

A better approach might require students to take another version of the test while being closely watched after school. A parent conference is also appropriate.

Specific Recommendations to Help Teachers Manage Cheating

For college students, some studies suggest that a simple honor code tends to deter cheating somewhat. The use of honor codes as reminders might be worth trying. Keep codes simple and have students voluntarily write the code on each test and sign it.

Other suggestions to discourage cheating include:

  • Don’t preach ­— discuss;
  • Be a model of honest, caring behavior;
  • Don’t accuse ­— especially in front of the entire class; take the matter up with the student and have solid evidence;
  • Monitor tests carefully;
  • Require cover-sheets and a clear desk;
  • Arrange seats as practically as possible;
  • Occasionally give alternate versions of tests so that copying brings about its own consequences
  • Become somewhat familiar with Internet sites where students might go to plagiarize on the Internet;
  • Do not allow “cheat sheets” or other testing methods that might trivialize cheating.

If a student is caught cheating on a test apply a disciplinary approach. Require a retake at an inconvenient time and notify parents; don’t simply give a zero and deny the primary cause of school — education.

Cheating is widespread in schools. Prevention is preferable to correction and teachers should use some class time to discuss honesty and character development generally.

Use a disciplinary approach to educate and require students to be assessed at another time. Involve all students in character education.