Compromising integrity for GPA

Jordan Berger | Staff Writer
Kris Ogungbemi | Staff Writer

Perfect is impossible. But every year students are caught comprising society’s commonly accepted moral principles to meet this unreachable goal. Cheating is common among students at Mason High School, according to senior Carmen Bizzarri.
“I’ve seen people cheat around me, and I’ve seen people I like and talk to in my classes cheat,” Bizzarri said. “High school is a somewhat easy environment to cheat in, so people wrongly take advantage of it. It happens way too often.”

Different motivations for the action to obtain an A are prevalent in every student: cheating is often the result of the differences in students’ reasoning for working to obtain an education, according to Bizzarri.

“School is pretty much about gaining your own knowledge, so there is no point in cheating,” Bizzarri said. “It shouldn’t be about grades; learning is more important.”

While many understand the importance of learning as opposed to merely getting grades, students still feel the societal and personal pressures for perfection, according to Bizzarri.

“I pressure myself to get good grades because I feel like I can compete with all the other smart people,” Bizzarri said. “I think I deserve to get good grades because I’m smart enough. So, I’m disappointed when I don’t, because I know I can do better than that.”

When students feel grades are the sole contributor to success, devaluing the significance of education, a much deeper issue lies within the student for his or her motives for cheating, according to AP U.S. History teacher Darin Little.

“I think cheating is a character issue,” Little said. “Are you willing to take short cuts in life to get ahead? Students feel they have to do whatever to get the grade and don’t value the importance of a well rounded education.”

Often, pressures for cheating increase with students challenging themselves in higher level and advanced classes, expecting to maintain a perfect grade point average with the large workload, according to Bizzarri. Many high school students have been groomed to accept only perfection, which is why some students attempt to achieve a perfect grade by any means, Bizzarri said.

“A lot of people say they cheat because they are busy,” Bizzarri said.

“First of all, you chose to be busy, and you should know your limits. If you know you can’t take five AP classes, but you expect to get all As, you know you won’t have time for that. There is no point [in taking AP classes] if you’re just going to cheat.”

Senior Michael Zhou takes five AP classes including AP Computer Science and AP Physics.

“I see in [advanced classes] more [cheating, because] the grades matter a lot more,” Zhou said. “[There is] a lot of trading answers with homework and asking each other what happens in class. It’s hard for the teachers to be observant of all 30 students at once, so I don’t think cheating will ever be gone.”

The rising pressure for academic excellence, especially in the most competitive arenas, has resulted in students striving to achieve perfection with any means possible, according to Assistant Principal Tim Keeton.

“Cheating in the upper level classes with our smartest students is more common than cheating we find in the [college preparatory] classes,” Keeton said.

According to a fact sheet produced by the Education Testing Service (ETS), while cheating is more frequent among students taking higher level courses, the frequency of cheating has also increased over time.

According to Zhou, some students are not aware of the actions that must be taken by the administration.

“I don’t really know what the punishment is for cheating,” Zhou said. “I don’t know what the actual administration does regarding cheating. I just know what actual specific teachers do.”

Harshness of punishment for cheating changes with the degree of cheating according to Keeton.

“It depends on the degree of the cheating,” Keeton said.

While about 20 percent of college students admitted to cheating in high school during the 1940s, today between 75 and 98 percent of college students surveyed each year report having cheated in high school, according to the ETS. According to the MHS Administration, 48 students were punished for cheating in the 2008–2009 school year; 33 of those incidents resulted in Saturday Schools. Those 48 reported infractions made up three percent of all of the high school’s 1,703 disciplines.

A lack of confidence by students in their preparations for an assessment or low self-esteem after hours of studying motivates them to reassure the perfect grade through cheating, according to Keeton.

“I’ve seen some [students] that have even studied but been afraid they’re going to get a freaking B,” Keeton said. “Some are prepared and just afraid.”

According to Bizzarri, while pressures thrust on students vary, one main factor for the stress of trying to appease society.

“It’s just sad,” Bizzarri said. “It’s the pressures of society, honestly. It makes me sad that [students] are so stressed out that cheating relieves the stress. I find that sad, especially when it’s just from an A to a B. It’s not the end of the world.”

The benefits of cheating are not worth the moral sacrifice, and often, Zhou said his opinion of a person drops when his or her cheating comes to light.

“My opinion of those people goes down because they’re willing to lose a part of their morality for five or six points,” Zhou said.

Students who cheat on assignments may feel more relieved after receiving an A, but peers feel differently as they witness others in the classroom cheat, according to Bizzarri.

“When people cheat, I feel like it’s not fair at all,” Bizzarri said. “If I spend two hours on homework that’s really hard, then you should too. I don’t want to get a 100 percent and then you get a 100 percent when you just cheated.”

Honors English III teacher Ann Helwig said she pushes her students to remain academically honest and reap the intangible benefits.

“I encourage students to learn so that their minds can be strengthened,” Helwig said, “I tell them character counts. And it does — sometimes the rewards are intrinsic.”

Cheating is seen by 80 perfect of America’s best students as “not a big deal,” according to the ETS. Helwig said she agrees that small, daily actions like cheating can be a bigger deal regarding students’ futures.

“Students have to decide which kind of person they will be,” Helwig said. “They need to stand on faith issues sometimes and make their faith and values real, even when integrity brings discomfort. If one lies and cheats and stays in denial for long enough, life can become dangerous and shoddy.”

The impetus to cheat comes from both the immense strain on students and societal acceptance of cheating; the dangers of continuously giving in to the pressure to obtain perfection by cheating include potentially compromising yourself for achieving simple tasks in life after high school, according to Helwig.

“People cheat in business and finance; people commit adultery,” Helwig said. “People shoplift and embezzle. One of my children said that in her graphics design classes in college, students stole other students’ slides of original artwork to include in their own portfolios.”

Because of the profitable outcomes in grades and success, cheating continues and honesty is ousted, according to Little, and affects the way people view each other.

“Do people know they are an honest person and someone that they can trust?” Little said. “Or does this person take short cuts and take advantage of situations in order to get ahead?”

According to Zhou, cheating is an ongoing cycle, because for some, grades will always matter more than the ethics involved and those who are not caught will continue.

“There will always be people who believe that their grade is more important,” Zhou said. “I think if you don’t catch it early, the people are more likely to do it more and more.”

Honesty can potentially override and exceed outcomes for people who cheat and provide opportunities that attempting to hide cheating would not, according to Helwig.

“I talk about business ethics and tell a story of a friend of mine who was hired primarily because he highlighted a paragraph of some writing he was asked to submit in an interview and explained that he collaborated with another person for the material,” Helwig said. “The firm offered him a job based on his honor and on the fact that he could be trusted with sensitive materials.”

Extreme stress and the extensive culture of cheating contribute to all time cheating highs, and these pressures forced upon high school students today can affect their futures if this perfectionist society goes without recognition, according to Helwig.

“[It’s the] extreme stress [and the] culture of cheating,” Helwig said, “But I’d call any college to support integrity and honor and to encourage admissions to welcome in spite of a B on [a] transcript.”

The perception a teacher holds of students is extremely important — cheating is a sure way to forfeit that image and, according to Zhou, it isn’t worth it.

“I guess it’s the consequences that make me not want to do it,” Zhou said. “A little homework I’d take a zero out of five on rather than a bad image in the teacher’s mind, because I think that means more.”

According to Helwig, who said she cheated once in college, the sincerity and conviction of students recently has been debatable.

“I did cheat [one time] in college on a Broadcast Journalism test,” Helwig said. “I can still watch myself in that seat looking at a test, and I feel bad about it to this day. My guess is that many students here are also deeply convicted about cheating . . . but sometimes it doesn’t seem so.”

Want to see this story in print?