4. Academic Dishonesty Should Not Result in a Lower Grade.

In my Standards-Based Grading post this weekend, Anon Y. Mous asked that I explain the rationale behind each of the core guidelines involved in the S.B.G. system. I think it’s a good suggestion and here is the fourth core guideline. Please comment with any corrections as I am still learning this new system. 🙂

If a student cheats on a test or plagiarizes a paper, his/her grade should not be affected; afterall, cheating is a behavior and not a measure of achievement. Deducting points or giving a zero for academic dishonesty would skew the meaning of a grade and would not be a reflection of what a student can do.

This does not mean, however, that the student goes unpunished. School policies normally dictate that a referral be sent to an administrator (for tracking and penalty). In addition, the student’s parents should be called.

Most importantly though, the real penalty for academic dishonesty should be redoing the work. The student should be forced to complete the assignment and show mastery. Simply giving the student a zero on the assignment does not measure what a student can do or where his/her achievement level lies.

I had a situation this year where a student who had finished a test was helping a student still finishing a test. I asked both to see me after class. I instructed each to have his parents call me that night. That night I received calls from each parent and I had the students do the following:

  • compose a letter of apology to me for the dishonesty and detailing how each would regain my trust,
  • sign a referral I sent down to the administrator for informational purposes, and
  • the student who had not finished the exam had to take a different version.

The parents of each student told me how happy they were that I called, and each was further punished at home. I created a better bond with the parents and–believe it or not–with the students. I sat and chatted with each of the students one on one, and I explained how a betrayal of trust hurts and how they must earn back my trust. Both were contrite and have since been model students. Relationships were strengthened and parent involvement was increased.

Simply giving each a zero and moving on would not have nearly had as much of an effect in my opinion. The incident would’ve passed and a school consequence given, but I doubt I would’ve seen any change in behavior (except that any future cheating would have been better planned). I now know exactly where each student’s mastery level lies, and I sincerely doubt a repeat of this behavior will occur.

Again, a citizenship grade in addition to an academic grade would be practical and appropriate on a report card.

On another level, creating assignments where cheating is very difficult or impossible would greatly reduce the need to monitor students as closely. Carefully crafting writing prompts and performance pieces can be an a possible fix.

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10 thoughts on “4. Academic Dishonesty Should Not Result in a Lower Grade.

  1. Mrs. Chili

    I agree in theory with this, but I’m not sure I agree in practice (at least, for MY practice – again, I teach at the college level, and the rules – and the stakes – are different).

    A student who plagiarizes in my class gets a zero for the assignment with NO opportunity to make the work up. The student gets referred to the administration who then makes the decision about whether or not to remove the student from the class – or from the school. The idea behind this, as I understand it, is that there has to be a zero-tolerance policy for that kind of behavior. We’re teaching students to be responsible, ethical adults, and there’s no place for cheating in that kind of environment. Much like having an arrest on one’s record, the zero and no opportunity for making up the work put the student in jeopardy of having to re-take (and re-pay) the course. If you steal from your employer and you get caught, chances are pretty good you’re going to lose your job and your employer may press charges. We try to impress upon kids that it’s more than just cutting-and-pasting from the internet.

    I think that a citizenship grade in middle and high schools is a GREAT idea, really. Keeping behavior and academic performance separate is interesting to me – I’ve never considered looking at them as individual concepts before…

    Reply
  2. drpezz Post author

    I think the college level is a completely different ball game and the leniency should go way down, even to non-existence. In theory you have the best of our students, so they should definitely know better and should be held to a higher standard. While high school teachers help students prepare for the real world (it’s not the real world no matter what some say), I think the collegiate world should be looked at as the real world: no more safety nets, no more vast allowances, and no more holding hands.

    I’m really starting to lean towards a citizenship grade. It could be just as valuable, if not more so, as the academic grade.

    Reply
  3. Melissa

    Wow, I’m not sure all of my students would tell their parents to call me! Or that all the parents would, or could, that same night.

    I have two questions:
    –Do you talk to your students about the consequences of cheating in college environments?
    –How do you “force” a student to complete an assignment? I know that you don’t believe in giving 0s, so I wonder if you are relying on the bond of your relationship with the student, and/or the support of the parent, to exert the necessary pressure here.

    Reply
  4. drpezz Post author

    I do mention the differences between the high school and college environments, though it’s not a primary focus.

    To “force” a student to complete an assignment, I do rely on my relationships with students first. However, I also have a seat by my desk where I sometimes place a student to complete major assignments, and I continually check the on the student’s progress. If the student refuses to work, I call the parent right there from my classroom and let the student tell the parent why we’re calling. If this doesn’t work, I go to the counselor for a meeting with the parents or a schedule change (we have a failure to work policy).

    Still, the most useful method is relying on the bond I’ve created with the student. In general, students who are not completing the work don’t know how to do it, so I try to help them one on one. I must admit that it’s rare to have to go beyond this stage, but it does happen.

    Grades are not usually a successful means of encouragement, but calls home often clear up a problem right away.

    Reply
      1. drpezz Post author

        I do everything I can to prevent entering a zero, but ultimately a zero would have to be entered if the students don’t do the assignment.

  5. Melissa

    Thanks for your response. I can see this approach working well, especially with my upper-level students. I like the idea of sitting them right next to you to finish the assignment.

    Reply
  6. drpezz Post author

    No problem, Melissa. I just try to make things as simple and easy to understand for my students as I can. We all know the expectations and I know each student, which makes all the difference.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Plagiarism & Rewrites « The Doc Is In

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