A Cheating Story

Megan was a high-performing student at an academically challenging parochial school—and she was frustrated. Everywhere she looked it seemed like her classmates were cheating. They copied each other’s papers, wrote answers on their shoes, and forged notes to get extra time on tests. Megan had never cheated. She wanted to do the right thing, but felt like she was in a situation where you had to “cheat or be cheated.” She considered approaching her faculty advisor about what she was observing, but that was complicated. She didn’t want to get her friends in trouble, and it seemed like some of the teachers knew what was going on and just looked the other way. So she decided not to do anything, and her frustration continued to build.

Megan wasn’t the only one who noticed the cheating problem. A local newspaper ran a story on extensive cheating at her school when some high-profile incidents were leaked to the press. The school leaders acknowledged that the school had a problem, and they came to Challenge Success for help. They formed a team of administrators, parents, teachers, and students that began to gather data to learn more about why students were cheating. The team collected and reported information on 38 incidents of general cheating, along with 50 incidences of plagiarism during the course of one school year, out of a total student body of approximately 1,600 students.

With data in hand, the team began a school-wide discussion on the importance of integrity. A panel of students spoke candidly to the faculty, sharing what was happening on campus and how concerned they were about the culture emerging at their school. As a result of these conversations, students and teachers together created an honor code to be used with every paper, quiz, test, project, and assessment. They also engaged in a massive educational effort to make sure that all students, parents, faculty, and administrators understood what this new honor code meant. The administration educated teachers on how and when to report violations, and because there was a consistent policy in place, the faculty felt supported in their efforts.

Integrity became as important as every other part of the curriculum, and teachers integrated the study of integrity into their subject areas when possible. The school understood that adolescents make mistakes and that valuable lessons could be learned from making a poor decision. In parent education sessions, administrators addressed parents’ fears of a blemish on their children’s permanent record, and parents were coached on how to respond appropriately at home when a student received a judicial infraction.

As a result of a community effort to fairly, transparently, and meaningfully address cheating, the school saw general infractions drop from 38 to 7, and plagiarism incidences drop from 50 to 11 during the next school year. As a result of their work with Challenge Success, the students on the team developed a catchphrase, “Find it, own it, live it.” As one student explained, “Finding what integrity means to you and really owning that definition and living it out in academics, sports, extracurriculars, and even outside of school, this is something that you could apply to any aspect of your life.”