Teachers confront cheating at Wilson


Graphic by Hamadi Belghachi

Chloe Fatsis and Ethan Fingerhut

Everyone knows that cheating happens at Wilson. It can be sliding a paper over so the person next to you can copy, mouthing an answer from across the room, or telling the kids in seventh period about the questions on the test you took in third.

In a survey conducted by The Beacon, 59 percent of 970 students said they had cheated on a math test. However, only six percent said they had been caught.

Teachers, painfully aware of the reality of cheating, are left to navigate how to prevent, confront, and punish cheating. Math teacher Alex Jacoby created a computer program that detects how many correct and incorrect answers students have in common on a multiple choice test. “That’s a little more fishy if you have the exact same wrong answers as somebody else,” Jacoby said. “Having the same right answers, that’s what you’d hope would happen.”

Although Jacoby uses the program somewhat regularly, he has not caught many people with it, primarily because does not give many multiple-choice tests. “I’ve probably used it like 10 times and found maybe three instances of people that were pretty clearly cheating,” he said.

This school year, a teacher used Jacoby’s program for a math midterm and suspected that a group of students had cheated. “I showed [another student] the answer sheet and mouthed around 20 of the answers,” said one student involved in the incident.

The teacher confronted the students and told them they would have to retake the test. “[The other two] were both quite miffed,” the aforementioned student said. But he wasn’t very concerned. “The only way you can see how well people actually know [the material] is just to make them take it again,” he said. In the end, the students did not end up having to retake the test. “That was clutch,” another student involved said.

In addition to Jacoby’s program, teachers also distribute multiple forms of tests, with the questions and answer choices rearranged for each form. Science teacher Dani Moore creates several versions of multiple-choice tests and gives different free-response questions to each of her classes.

“Hearing from your friend what questions you’ve gotten period one doesn’t tell you anything about what you could expect in period four,” Moore said.

Math teacher Qi Guo said that she sees cheating more often on multiple-choice questions than free-response, so her tests mainly contain free-response questions. Of the students who said they had cheated on a math test, 63 percent said they cheated more often on multiple-choice problems than free-response.

Thirty-one percent of the students surveyed said they cheated the most on science tests, compared to math, English, history, and foreign language. “I’ve seen students copying off a neighbor, like multiple-choice answers or math answers, and I’ve seen students Googling things on their phones during tests,” Moore said.

Teachers have difficulty confronting suspected cheaters, especially during the test itself. “I see what’s going on during the test, but I cannot just pull you out in the middle of the test,” math teacher Dina Reyes said. “It would be embarrassing if I [did] it to you and it would probably be demotivating for [my students].”

Both Moore and Guo expressed similar sentiments as Reyes regarding how to handle cheating situations. One of Moore’s first experiences with a student cheating on a test was with a student who wasn’t showing up to class or performing well on assignments.

“That’s always such a tricky call because you don’t want to undermine a student who has been struggling and then succeeds,” Moore said. Guo added, “I hope people can learn from their mistakes. The point is not just to penalize them.”

Copying homework is another common form of cheating, but most Wilson students don’t think of it that way. Only 28 percent of students surveyed said they considered copying homework cheating, possibly explaining why 80 percent said they had copied math homework before.

Between students sending each other pictures of their homework and the abundance of answers online, copying homework is an easy option. “It’s a tempting thing to do for students because there is so much pressure to get the good grades,” Jacoby said. “You live in the age where all the homework answers are available online, almost all the time, with any textbook you have.”

Students have even found ways around doing online homework on programs like DeltaMath by paying other people to do it for them. “Usually the day or two before it’s due, people text me asking if I can do [their homework]. And if they’re willing to pay the right amount of money then I’ll say yeah,” said a student who asked not to be named.

The student said he has built up a network of students that he does online homework for. “It started out with my friends and just people that I knew. But then they told their friends and I just get texts from random people out the cut,” he said. He added that a large part of his clientele is comprised of students who already understand the material and don’t want to burden themselves with extra homework.

Copying homework isn’t just isolated to math classes. According to the survey, 31 percent of students copy the most work in math, followed by history at 29 percent and science at 28 percent. History teacher Jonathan Shea said he believes copying work is “utterly rampant.” However, he emphasized that he doesn’t know how to stop students from doing it.

To curb homework copying, some teachers give “homework quizzes” after the homework is due. “If you’ve done the homework, this should be easy,” Jacoby said. “If you’ve copied it, then it’ll probably be much more difficult.”

But even with homework quizzes, students still cheat. “I caught one yesterday using another [person’s] notebook to do [the] homework quiz,” Guo said.

Ultimately, Moore feels that the root of cheating on tests and copying homework comes from the pressure students feel to succeed. “If I could change something about Wilson’s cheating culture it wouldn’t be about cheating,” she said. “It would be about the way students see classwork and schoolwork.”