By Sarah Swenson, Assistant News Editor
This year, cheating at the high school has increased, and the school response has yet to stop the high rates of academic dishonesty. The increase in cheating has been mainly caused by increased opportunity. Because of the pandemic and the hybrid model implemented by the school, students are doing much of their school work from home. At home, with no teacher to watch and hold you accountable, it is much easier to cheat on assignments or tests. Students can google answers to questions as teachers ask them, or have their book propped open while they take a test. It’s made guaranteeing students’ honesty nearly impossible for teachers.
Teachers at the school have made many attempts to cut back on cheating. Some teachers require students to have their cameras on during class time, work on school-issued Chromebooks that can be monitored using the remote access program GoGuardian, or do their writing on shared Google documents so teachers can see their progress. Teachers also try to impress upon students the importance of learning, not for the grade, but for their own understanding. It is school policy that students who are caught or suspected of cheating are spoken to individually, and their parents are contacted. Students will receive zeros on assignments if they are caught cheating.
Science teacher Ashley Erisman has been working in all of her classes to counteract cheating with a combination of many of the above tactics. In her opinion, “The school’s… best tool given to us is having students on Chromebooks, so that we can monitor using GoGuardian.” She requires her students to use school Chromebooks while in class.
In the very next room, Patrick Gregorich, also a science teacher, disagreed; “I’m not sure that GoGuardian and school-issued Chromebooks [have] curtailed the cheating. In fact, I don’t see any evidence of that at all.” He went on to explain that while he uses GoGuardian, he doesn’t require students to use school-issued devices. “It gives an unfair advantage. It allows those who have a personal device to continue to cheat, and those who don’t, can’t. I hate to call cheating an advantage, but it does seem… unfair.”
Erisman and Gregorich referred to a school protocol implemented beginning in the second term that allows teachers to mandate that students use Chromebooks. Erisman believes that this policy has achieved its goal in helping to reduce cheating; Gregorich said that it was an ineffective policy. Leslie Brannigan, a history teacher, took a stand in the middle ground; she believes that using GoGuardian and requiring school-issued Chromebooks can be helpful for some teachers, but she herself doesn’t use them, preferring other methods of monitoring and consequence.
Despite the way the policy has been interpreted, however, Principal Mandy Vasil has previously stated that the protocol actually has nothing to do with the increase in academic dishonesty. She claimed that its aim was simply to increase teachers’ ability to connect with students about their work.
Teachers have definitely felt the strain of trying to handle cheating this year, but the experience of teaching and trying to maintain control of cheating in the classroom during the pandemic has been different for each discipline. Some subjects, like English, are easier to keep fair when teaching virtually. Plagiarism checkers on Google Classroom and Schoology, sites for students to submit work virtually to their teachers, keep students from getting away with blatant copy and pasting. For classes like math, where there is just one answer, it is seemingly more challenging to tell when a student is copying information from an online source.
Individual departments have also taken different approaches to giving tests. Tests are evolving to meet the needs of both teachers and students during the pandemic. Both the nature of tests, and their importance, is changing. In English classes, tests are not as standard, and any answer given will be unique to the individual student. Tests were also never as big a part of English classes as they are with science or math classes.
Aileen Wiggin, a history teacher, said that she has not given any tests this year in her classes. When she does give them, they will be open-book, because she knows that cheating will happen anyways. Brannigan has also placed more emphasis on classwork, homework, and participation than tests this year, agreeing that, “In classes where you can get away with [measuring students’ understanding without tests], most teachers are opting not to give the traditional test as we used to know it.” While Brannigan, like most AP teachers, are not cutting out tests entirely, she said that “a lot of teachers, at least at the high school level, are reconsidering assessments and how they’re informing the grade process.” Wiggins agreed with this statement.
Even in science, where the teachers are teaching more objective material, the nature of tests has been revised, and their importance has been decreased in proportion to other elements of the class. Erisman admitted that she has stopped testing as frequently, basing more of her grades on classwork, like many of the history and English teachers. Gregorich stopped testing entirely after many of his students cheated on the first exam he gave at the beginning of the year, only starting again recently. Despite the challenges, teachers are taking every precaution they can to prevent cheating, and there is more room for individual thinking in science tests than math ones. According to Gregorich, tests and quizzes, especially for his AP classes, are designed to assess progress by making students piece together learned information in context, instead of just recalling a list of facts. Computational problems are randomized, with each student given their own numbers to work from to prevent easy cheating off of friends.
However, they still find it hard to keep students completely honest. Some teachers of science courses, including Heather MacDonald, Mr. Gregorich, and Ms. Erisman, are all planning on starting, or have already started, to adopt a new policy that would transition some or all of their AP tests to be entirely in person. Students in these classes would come into the building, in some cases outside of school hours, to take their tests, so they can be monitored.
Teachers of every subject have been trying to communicate to students the importance of integrity. While other preventative measures are varied, sitting down and talking to the students is the one constant. The point of stopping students from cheating, teachers emphasized, is not to catch and humiliate them, or to doc points, it is to make sure the students are legitimately learning the material.
“I, especially in my AP classes, give examples of what happens with college plagiarism, so that students understand the significance as you move up in academia, that you truly get all credit for an entire course or even your entire time at university removed if you get caught cheating,” Erisman explained. She wants students to be honest, and truly learn. Cheating, she stresses, doesn’t help you in the long run.
Gregorich agreed, saying that as much as his AP students complain about integrity standards, or coming in early to take a test in person, “They probably appreciated it as well; they see the value in it.”
The importance of academic integrity is especially strong for students in the school’s National Honor Society, a prestigious organization that recognizes students based on four pillars: scholarship, service, leadership, and character. Cheating threatens all of these. In a recent meeting, Brannigan, who is advisor of the Nantucket branch of the NHS, explained at a recent meeting that any students caught cheating would be removed from the prestigious organization. No one has been removed from the school’s chapter yet.
Brannigan explained that the consequences for cheating are well defined. The school would lose its charter if teachers had knowledge of students in NHS cheating, but did not act on it. “If you cheat, you can’t be part of the National Honors Society. It’s right in the name,” she said concisely.
Gregorich agreed definitively. In his opinion, there’s no grey area when it comes to cheating: “National Honor Society students should be the top tier students.” He stated that when a student entering NHS commits to the four pillars, they are committing to more than just an academic standard; there are four pillars of NHS, not just one. He believes that cheating speaks to your character in a negative way, makes you a bad role model for other students, and invalidates your academic achievement.
Every teacher at the school is trying to make learning accessible for students during the pandemic, while keeping them honest. Universally, it has been a struggle; the increase in cheating and the lack of effective preventive measures have been frustrating to faculty members. To see so many students cheating, and feeling like they have to cheat at all, is, “just disappointing, from a teaching perspective… It’s a little bit heartbreaking,” according to Erisman.
The teachers are all still searching for an effective way to decrease cheating. Erisman called for “some sort of academic program… of consequence. The school needs a better follow through. Every teacher needs to be on board, following the same set of steps, for students to curb their behaviour.”