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Answer Sheet
Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 09/29/2011

New ways students cheat on tests

A cheating scheme just uncovered in New York in which a college student took the SAT exam for younger teens — for a fee — is bringing new calls for increased test security and questions about whether cheating is on the rise in the era of high-stakes tests.

Six minors and a 19-year-old were arrested in the cheating scandal and prosecutors have said they are looking to see if more people were involved.

The SAT cheating scandal comes on the heels of a number of recent episodes in school districts around the country in which teachers and principals have been accused — or suspected — of cheating on high-stakes standardized tests, the most prominent in Atlanta.

Are we in a cheating epidemic?

There isn’t definitive data to reach that conclusion, though surveys suggest a big percentage of students cheat — and have for a long time. The Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University has reported that more than 75 percent of college students cheat in some way on school work or exams at least once during their undergraduate careers. The nationwide rate of college students admitting to cheating on tests and exams is 22 percent. Of course, it’s not likely they waited until college to start to cheat.

Yet it is worth remembering that people have been cheating on tests since the first tests were given (really, scholars say there was a great deal of cheating on civil service exams in ancient China). What has changed over time are the ways that people come up with to cheat.

According to FairTest, or the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit that works to end the misuse of standardized tests, the method used by the students in Great Neck, N.Y., impersonation, appears to be the least of three types of admissions test cheating cases.

The most common is “collaboration” (aka copying from someone seated nearby at the test center). Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, said that more than 2,000 potential cases on the SAT (out of 2.5 million tests administered) are flagged for investigation each year (either as a result of “whistleblower” complaints or large score changes from previous administrations) with about 1,000 sufficiently confirmed for the Educational Testing Service, which scores the SAT for the College Board, to withhold scores.

The second broad grouping is “prior pnowledge,” in which a test-taker gets an advance look at questions and/or answers.

Christine Probett is a San Diego State University management professor who has studied the methods student use to cheat. Here’s what she told me in an e-mail:

“Kids have been cheating forever and some of the ‘classic; methods are still utilized: crib notes (pieces of paper, written on hand/under bandaids, etc.), looking at another’s paper, signals/whispering to others, etc.

What I categorize as “updated classic” methods are now added to the arsenal:

* Notes inside brim of baseball caps

* Notes inside label of water bottles

* Fake “Coke” bottle labels with notes printed where ingredients, etc. should be printed

* Having another student take exam in their place (easier now with larger class sizes)

* “Clickers” (sometimes used in class for quizzes, attendance, etc.) - students who skip class give their clickers to others so they get credit

* There are many videos on YouTube which provide step-by-step cheating techniques, so that in itself is yet another method!

However, the new “high tech” methods include:

* Distracting teacher and pulling out cell phone and taking photo of exam

* Texting someone in/outside class for answers

* Google-ing for answers

* Organized groups of students working together to “memorize” a question or two and collaborating to recreate the exam

* The Internet also enables access to lots of material that can make plagiarism much easier.

As for which of the above are the most popular, my guess is that it’s whichever they think they can get away with! The most amazing thing to me is the effort that some students go through to cheat. If they just spent that much time studying the material instead, they would probably do fine!

Asked what teachers and professors can do to stop kids from cheating, she wrote:

A) Teacher countermeasures:

* Understand the methods and prevent them as much as possible

* Clearly articulated “Academic Integrity Policy”, with severe repercussions (failed course, university judicial review, etc.)

* Multiple versions of exams, different colored paper

* New exams each term

* If possible, essay exams

* Numbered exams

* Photo ID check for exams

* Walking around during exams

* NO electronics (cell phones, IPods, PDAs, etc.)

* Require baseball caps turned backward, check drink bottles

* On-line exams/quizzes: use technology to juggle questions and use algorithmic variations for calculations

* For writing assignments, utilize plagiarism check software such as TurnItIn or SafeAssign

* In a nutshell, I think if you tell students that you know “ALL” of these methods, it precludes them from even trying (i.e., instructor precautions, above)

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By  |  04:00 AM ET, 09/29/2011

 
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