Academic gild belies cheating at Ames High

At Ames High School, we pride ourselves on academic excellence. National Merit Scholars are bred like goldfish, and we don’t even have class rank due to the number of high-achieving students. But underneath the plaques and banners, is there an underground culture of dishonest educational practices, or “cheating?” Recently, a student (let’s call him George) was caught for plagiarism. He brazenly lifted three sentences (and the basis of his paper) straight from the CliffNotes website and plopped them on his AP European History book review, clearly missing the entire point of the book review assignments: reading and thinking about good books. While what he did was idiotic, many other students do take serious academic shortcuts never get punished. Some students take advantage of another teacher’s grading practices for their book reviews. They have found that this teacher, at his/her best, skims the entire review and, at his/her worst, reads only three sentences of it. In fact, the formula for a “perfect” review simply involves reading the summary on Sparknotes, blatantly paraphrasing said summary onto a clean document, inserting the date of publication, the significance of the book, and a 9/10 evaluation, and finishes with an exclamation on Facebook: “I did that entire review without reading one sentence of the book!” Although this formula is foolproof, true slackers will simply use other students’ reviews of past years as their own. These students, like many others, willingly give away homework, quizzes, tests, and even entire papers so their friends can get good grades without giving good effort. “In some classes, it really is a group goal for everyone to get an A,” one junior said. Classmates often ask him answers to test problems while taking the very test in class. After all, why should they trouble themselves with studying or thinking if he already has the answers and is freely willing to share them? Lamentably, many students are too stuck-up to give their fellow classmates answers. Experienced cheaters fortunately have many workarounds for prying answers from prudish fingers. One junior, who prefers to be referred to as John, detailed the strategies he employs while showing obvious contempt for students who only cheat with “the common peek.” “For math, slipping notes behind the calculator screen is the best [method]. For quizzes, I usually switch my quiz with a friend who then fills in the correct answers. That’s always solid.” He even jokingly suggested that some aspiring cheaters should take prescription ADD drug Adderall to give that extra boost. A tactic that John and others often use for tests involves a sort of crude form of Morse code– two taps for moving an accomplice’s body right, one for the left. “People in AP classes want to work hard and be smart. I’ve found a loophole in the system,” he said. For multiple choice tests, cheating this way is incredibly easy– one tap for A, two taps for B, etc.This same kid plans to hire a skilled lookalike who will take his standardized SAT tests for him, ensuring a great score. Even AP students aren’t above the mentality of taking shortcuts. Sometimes the workload can be so overwhelming that some resort to copying others’ homework just to stay afloat. In extreme time crunches, even more drastic measures have to be taken. “Instead of assignment 20 for AP Biology, sometimes it had to be assignment number 21. Maybe 24 and 26 too,” Admiral Akbar proudly recalls. Of course, this option works only with teachers who merely “spot-check” the homework, a method that entails glancing at homework headings and, for math, noting whether graphs are present. Quickly scanning a piece of paper with writing on it, however, is no substitute for checking each problem. “Algebra II was great,” one junior said. “Because my handwriting is awful, I could copy the equations listed in the actual problem, make up a few steps, and get perfects on the homework with about five minutes of effort.” However, this student, though definitely gifted, got more than a few D’s on his tests. The amount of crap that passes as completed homework at Ames High should alert and astonish any administrator concerned with the high failure rate and poor performance not only in the math department, but also around the school. Indeed, many Ames High students have come to accept cheating and all its forms as acceptable parts of their daily lives at Ames High.