The Need for Clarity

What is "integrity?"

June 8, 2019

You frequently hear that there’s a cheating problem at Mount Greylock, but does anyone truly know what constitutes cheating? Some may exclusively equate “cheating” with copying answers during an exam, while others also consider asking someone who has already taken a test whether it is hard to be dishonest.

If Mount Greylock does have a cheating problem, it is partially attributable to the lack of understanding of what integrity — one of the pillars of the Greylock Way — means. In writing this editorial, the Board searched for an official definition of academic integrity issued by the administration, and found the academic dishonesty matrix, which lays out consequences of cheating. The document defines cheating as “claiming credit for work not the product of one’s own effort; providing access to material or information so that credit may be claimed by others; failure to acknowledge sources; knowledge or toleration of cheating.” The matrix does a great job of laying out specific consequences of different levels of offenses. But the definition does not give a clear standard of what cheating is, leaving a lot of room for interpretation. It leaves many questions: what about what goes on in the hallway? What is “material or information?” The definition seems to want to be vague as to encapsulate a wide variety of types of offenses. But the lack of specificity is harmful.

No, you’re not off the hook because there isn’t a particularly accessible definition you can use. There is a moral and ethical standard any student should have concerning school work, whether or not that is clearly stated by the school.

But you do deserve to know what you can and cannot do.

Studies over the past years have illustrated that often times, students complete dishonest acts but don’t consider them to be “cheating.” Researchers at the University of Nebraska found that only 47 percent – less than half – of students thought providing test questions to someone who would take the test later counted as “academic dishonesty.” This figure is particularly interesting next to some of the other numbers in the same study. Well over half of students claimed that writing a report based on the movie instead of the book would be academically dishonest (only 39 percent said that this wasn’t academically dishonest). So in the eyes of the students in the survey when put in aggregate, watching a movie instead of a book is much worse than giving others test questions. The researchers acknowledged that cheating is widespread, but also point out that in many cases “students simply don’t grasp that some dishonest acts are cheating.”

Cheating is a problem. There’s no question that a lack of academic honesty has consequences for students, even beyond a zero in the gradebook: trust issues, incompetency, and an increased lack of motivation, to name a few. Academic dishonesty must be addressed, but it’s simply impossible to do that without laying down a neat, detailed framework for what students should and should not feel comfortable doing.

The Board would like to see an approach to the “cheating problem” that stresses educating students on exactly what is an is not ok. Will this make all students stop doing things that are designated as “not ok?” Absolutely not.

But by detailing what is an isn’t dishonesty, teachers and the administration would be putting messages in students’ heads. They would also be starting a conversation. If students can start talking about what is and isn’t ok, something is being done right.

This editorial appears in the June print edition of the Echo.

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