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High School Hustle: Is cheating on the rise?

A few weeks ago, my high school freshman son came home with a story about several students caught cheating in his favorite class. The teacher is highly respected and a notoriously tough grader and she was extremely angry about what had taken place. I was relieved my son was not among those caught, but I was taken aback, and we ended up having a conversation about finals, Regents exams, and all the pressures high school students feel.

I started asking the many teenagers in my life about cheating at their high schools, and kept hearing the same reply: “Everyone cheats.”

A few days later, I read a heartbreaking piece entitled “The Leap,’’ that appeared in New York Magazine. In wrenching detail, the piece described how a brilliant junior at The Dalton School jumped out a window and killed himself after he had been caught cheating on a Latin exam.

The suicide, of course, is far more complex than the circumstances of the cheating, and the story made it clear that the real reasons for the jump might never be entirely known. I began to wonder if cheating is on the rise, though, and wanted to know from friends, relatives and teachers how cheating should be handled. I could not help wondering if high schools discuss cheating with students and lay out clearly what the consequences would be. I imagine they vary widely.

I also stumbled across a Washington Post story that looked at new ways students are cheating with modern technology. Cell phone cameras, text messages, and calculators are all being used. In Fairfax Virginia the school board just voted to tighten regulations on ways students can use electronic devices in schools – so that they aren’t used to cheat.

"I don't know if cheating is any more prevalent than in previous years; it's just more accessible. . . . Kids are 'borrowing' from the Web, a teacher told the Washington Post.

The story said teachers handle cheating “on a case-by-case basis,’’ which seems to make sense. I could not help but wonder if there is more of it at a time when graduation requirements are being raised, making it harder for students to get out of high school without passing specific exams.

Educators are under more pressure as well, especially as their salaries are being tied to how well students perform on standardized tests. On Friday, the New York Times published a story filled with examples of teachers tampering with kids test scores, even though there were no hard numbers to document the trend. Some educators say the real problem is a lack of audit systems in place to address cheating by school officials.

I’m mostly concerned with ways that teenagers can learn from their mistakes – and learn for the sake of learning, not just for the tests they have to take. Insideschools would like to hear thoughts of ways schools can prevent – and handle – cheating.

Any good examples? What can – and should -- parents and schools do?

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