Halt the School Cheating Epidemic!

cheatingby Robert Maronic

Roanoke County Public Schools (RCPS) has a good reputation for educating students in grades K-7. However, cheating on non-Standards of Learning (SOL) testing on school-issued laptops is a chronic problem. I taught Latin at Hidden Valley High School from 2011 to 2013, and took every precaution to prevent cheating but to no avail.

Cheating is a widespread problem at all five county high schools including the 8th grade. I spoke about the problem this spring before the School Board and then the Board of Supervisors. Unfortunately, nothing was resolved.

I believe that RCPS is in violation of Standard 7 (C) (3) of the Code of Virginia, which states that “the standards of student conduct and attendance and enforcement procedures [are] designed to provide that public education be conducted in an atmosphere free of disruption and threat to persons or property and supportive of individual rights” (§ 22.1-253.13:7).”

RCPS has adequate “standards of student conduct” and policies in place for academic integrity. Unfortunately, the central office of RCPS and the administrators at the five county high schools cannot realistically enforce the rules when students take an online non-SOL test or quiz on school-issued laptops. Students can cheat easily, making the “enforcement procedures” in Standard 7 (C) (3) almost meaningless.

The problem is that students have complete access to both their hard drives and the internet during an online test, and it is impossible for a dedicated teacher to watch fifteen or thirty laptop screens from the back of the room while also monitoring for such traditional cheating as crib sheets and smartphones. Students can easily right click on Google, access the Snipping Tool, copy and paste answers, hide a cheat sheet, email passwords, and, most insidiously, program a key to perform screen captures of an entire test or quiz to a Google server without the teacher ever knowing it.

This testing environment is the direct opposite of state-mandated SOL testing, which requires a lock-down browser and other software to prevent digital cheating.

Standard 7 (C) (3) clearly states that “public education be conducted in an atmosphere” “supportive of individual rights” (§ 22.1-253.13:7). RCPS has violated the “individual rights” of honest students who obey the rules or “standards of student conduct” (§ 22.1-253.13:7). Honest students are at a distinct disadvantage in competing against the dishonest ones on the basis of GPAs, class ranking, and academic awards, all of which impact college admissions, scholarships and grants.

There is a de facto system of academic apartheid between the honest students and the cheaters in grades 8-12, creating a non-level playing field in RCPS and a negative “atmosphere” of learning. Like Major League Baseball players during the steroid era, many honest students ask themselves if they should cheat in order to get ahead academically while the dishonest students never ask themselves this question. This is a moral dilemma every honest student faces during the academic year at every county high school and all the other county schools in grades 8-12.

In addition, Standard 7 (C) (3) states that “public education be conducted in an atmosphere” “free of disruption.” Not only is cheating both academically disruptive and morally wrong, it teaches bad “citizenship” — the antithesis of “responsible participation in American society.” RCPS should not be teaching its students to emulate such notorious “cheats” as Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, Lenny Dykstra and Alex Rodriguez, not to mention Swiss banks, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen. Lastly, cheating certainly does not “foster public confidence” in RCPS, which is one of the five “accreditation standards” of the “public education system” in Virginia.

RCPS has not been in compliance with both Standards 7 (C) (3) and 1 (C) in grades 9-12 since 2007 and grade 8 since 2015. The Virginia Department of Education should conduct an immediate external investigation to ascertain the status of the school district’s state accreditation, and to determine who has been either responsible or complicit in this shameful and preventable academic misconduct. The students, parents and taxpayers in Roanoke County all deserve more integrity and better accountability from their public schools.

Robert Maronic, a former teacher, resides in Roanoke, Va.

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8 responses to “Halt the School Cheating Epidemic!”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I know almost nothing about how SOL testing is done other than what teachers I know tell me but I was under the impression that the SOLs testing was done with DOE software that once executed took over the machine and prevented anything else from being done until the test was done.

    you’d certainly not want a situation where any and every school in Va would be vulnerable to cheating.

    Online testing is fairly common these days to extend far beyond just SOL testing .. even to people at home and there are ways to write such software – and the content and context such that is is not that easy to cheat.

    I know because I get tested every year on tax certification and I can suspend testing – go do research and come back and answer the questions. The goal of that test is to verify that I either already know or go find out the correct answers… and the fail threshold is 80%.

    The questions are worded in such a way that the answers take a little thinking and the urge to put a quick answer in is risky and often leads to incorrect answers.

    There’s a whole field of designing such testing since more and more folks actually do test outside of a controlled facility – in their home – and such tests can be designed to make it hard to cheat, easy to get caught cheating and in the end – having to know the material to arrive at correct answers that take more than just filling in a blank.

    It’s a new world – a digital world – where software and content have to be explicitly designed to deal with potential cheating….

    Whatever is going on at Roanoke -is worrisome if the same vulnerabilities exist at other schools in Virginia – and I would hope that DOE has not designed their testing with such vulnerabilities.

    What does Roanoke and DOE say to this accusation?

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    whoa! Cheating in HENRICO!

    Some Central Virginia teachers, principals cheating on SOL tests

    ” Since 2010, the state ordered retests after investigations into cheating by teachers, principals and SOL proctors two times in Chesterfield, eight times in Richmond, and 24 times in Henrico.

    The principal at Ginter Park Elementary School in Richmond was placed on indefinite administrative leave in 2011 for changing the answers of at least one student.

    A principal at Montrose Elementary School in Henrico actually took the SOL for an absent student, and then changed that student’s attendance record, according to state records.

    “The document speaks for itself,” said Henrico County School spokesperson Andy Jenks.”


    okay – so what this does tell me is that DOE has processes in place to detect cheating … I’m not sure how they know – but they apparently have built in ways to detect.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    my apologies – I skipped right over the ‘non-SOL” verbiage… my bad!

    but sort of brings up an interesting issue about what non-SOL testing the schools do – and how – they do it – in such a way that they safeguard against super-easy cheating…

    I know you can configure a laptop to run only one application and nothing else including browsers – and it’s not that difficult to do – but it does take some basic computer administrating skills and the root password.

    The local school system does not have these kind of employees at each school – they have a central IT group that administers each school on a
    on-call basis… We simply cannot afford that kind of staff at each school – it’s all we can do to afford the teachers that are needed.

    And we are not a poor district – like some are.. we have reasonable finances but there are tons of positions we cannot fill – including Title 1 and Pre-K , etc.

    this is probably another example of schools just not having all the resources they need to cover everything that should be.

    In this case – perhaps – without the staff to properly administer the laptops – they should revert to paper.

  4. Acbar Avatar

    Thank you, Robert Maronic, for this insight. A question and a comment:

    The question: you say, “There is a de facto system of academic apartheid between the honest students and the cheaters in grades 8-12” — roughly what proportions, 50::50 or what, are we talking about here?

    The comment: with kids typically having this sort of experience all across Virginia, what kind of a chance does the University of Virginia’s Honor Code have?

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Good Question. Collateral question would be is it really enforced except in most flagrant and obvious cases, given current lack of ethics.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      Of course – being the contrarian I always am – I’d ask :

      Should the State being imposing it’s will on local governance or not?

      we keep hearing all this talk about how govt is forcing top-down rules and regulations that are ham-fisted and just plain wrong and that local governance is better…

      so I ask – Should UVA be left along to do what it thinks is right for UVA (which is how their original Honor Code was done) or should Govt impose top-down edicts on UVA Honor Code or for that matter – how local public schools choose to spend local money on education?

    3. rmaronic Avatar

      That is a difficult question to answer. It depends on how vigilant the teacher is in watching 15 to 30 laptop screens from behind all the students. However, a teacher can be easily distracted by a telephone call, a knock at the door, assisting a student with a difficult question, resetting the password when the Wi-Fi goes down or simply walking around the classroom in order to look for smart phones, crib sheets etc. Walking around the classroom is truly the “kiss of death” and has to be kept to a minimum. That is especially when a dishonest student can easily access a cheat sheet or web browser. The other problem is that many teachers have become so demoralized over the years they simply do not care to watch the laptops while remaining at their desks. That was one of the biggest complaints I heard from many former students in June 2015. Whether a student is cheating on one question per semester or an entire test accessed from a Google server, it is all still cheating. I would estimate that the percentage of students who cheated at my former high school was anywhere from 20% to 50% depending on the teacher. Most of my former students, especially the valedictorians, put the number closer to 50% while distinguishing between the casual and habitual cheaters. If you are interested in reading the entire letter along with the Notes and Works Cited, which I sent to Dr. Cannaday on May 21, please see http://calaf.org/?s=Roanoke. The entire letter minus the Notes etc. is at http://theroanoketribune.org/?p=4270

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    There’s another aspect to this worth recognizing.

    Non-SOL means local funding.

    this is money over and above what the State requires as a match.

    It’s totally discretionary – in terms of what it is spent for – it’s up to the locality – what the BOS is willing to tax citizens over and above what it cost to fund the SOLs.

    So the school system – has made choices about what to spend discretionary money on – and I presume the BOS who approved the extra taxes to fund the non-mandated courses are also okay with the choices the Schools have made in not spending it on a industry-standard computer testing protocol.

    Let me also – again – point out – that all across Virginia in virtually every county except for the really poor ones – money – over and above what the State requires – is spent on discretionary items – that more often than not are not even identified in the School Budget – as discretionary/optional spending.

    You can also bet – that non-public schools – charter/choice – etc are not going to spend “extra” money beyond what is mandated – unless someone pays for the extra funding.

    things to think about……….

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