School administrators and teachers recognize that high school is a time of both change and challenge for young people. The stresses of assessments, assignments, and tests loom larger than life. Sometimes, the desire to ensure a "good" grade tempts students to cheat.
Many schools promote academic integrity and might even have an honor code. But that's only the start. Schools must create a culture that supports this belief and behavior throughout the educational community.
It can be difficult to develop that culture when school administrators and teachers view these lapses differently. An April 2021 survey conducted by K12 Dive and Turnitin highlighted a difference between administrators and teachers in where they believe misconduct most frequently occurs. The survey asked about their experience with and perspectives on academic misconduct.
The breakdown of the 162 respondents was:
- 9-12th grade teachers: 33%
- 9-12th grade administrators: 19%
- District curriculum directors/coordinators: 11%
- High school department chairs: 2%
- Other educational roles for grades 9-12: 33%
In the survey, more than half of teachers (52%) said students share quiz and test answers, while only 37% of administrators agreed. Likewise, 56% of teachers said students looked up quiz/test answers, while 43% of administrators said the same.
Different viewpoints of transgressions
To be clear, neither teachers nor administrators think lapses in integrity are acceptable, but there is a difference in how lapses are perceived and handled.
In the survey, teachers more often than others say that no action is taken when there is academic misconduct (20% vs. 6%). Additionally, teachers are much less likely to say that suspensions occur in the wake of academic misconduct (6% vs. 80%).
These perspectives may stem from teachers' micro view of the assignments, says Andi Arnold, an English teacher at Caldwell High School in Caldwell, Idaho. "A teacher knows that every assignment is intentional and is going to build a skill," says Arnold. "Using someone else's work denies the student the opportunity to learn the skills and encourages future dishonest behavior."
In contrast, administrators may have more of a macro view. As a result, they\may not view a transgression as seriously as the teacher does, says Patti West-Smith, director of customer engagement, head of Turnitin's Teaching & Learning Innovations Team, and former K12 teacher and administrator.
"By the time the teacher goes to the administrator for academic intervention, the teacher has a list of concerns they've tried to address through conversations with the student, or calls to the parents, so the teacher's frustration level has built up," she says.
The administrator, however, is new to the situation and may see it as a single incident. Their insights into long-term trends and impact across classrooms may result in significantly different approaches to handle the situation, West-Smith says.
Increasingly difficult to identify lapses in integrity
It's also becoming harder to pinpoint what academic cheating looks like, Arnold says. In simpler times, a student might copy another student's answers on a test or not cite a source. Now, in more sophisticated times, students might copy and paste content from obscure websites without attribution, get test answers from a student in an earlier class, or work with another at home on a project designed to be done solo. With students working online, especially from home, it is also harder to monitor behaviors.
More than honor codes needed
Even though 66% of schools in the Turnitin survey have an honor code, more than half of the teachers in the survey said students committed academic misconduct.
Academic misconduct can be a murky topic. That makes it difficult for honor codes to clearly define what is or isn't acceptable. If the members of the school community—including the administrators, teachers, students and parents—don't understand the definition of academic integrity and lapses, even with an honor code, it's challenging to create a culture that encourages honorable conduct and authentic learning.
Creating the 360-degree perspective
To fulfill the educational missions of their schools and districts, teachers and administrators must unite to prevent and address academic misconduct. By more openly discussing their experiences and viewpoints, they can develop a consistent understanding of the state of misconduct in their schools, including what it is, how and why it occurs, and how best to address it.
Keys to creating this consistent perspective between teachers and administrators:
- Trust your colleagues' good intentions. While individual administrators and teachers may bring different observations and perspectives, everyone is part of one team of educators committed to student success.
- Define terms like academic integrity and misconduct. What do they look like? Keep in mind that definitions may evolve.
- Use data from instructional tools like Turnitin Feedback Studio to indicate if misconduct might be occurring, what type of misconduct could be happening, and why.
- Look at how the honor code is integrated throughout the school culture. Is it a page on the syllabus or is it a touchpoint referenced throughout the year? Look to best practice guides like Turnitin's Building an honor code: Tips for institutions and educators for ways to integrate the code into everyday life.
- Create a consensus on issues such as how much a student's intent plays into the determination of academic misconduct, the consequences for academic lapses and if those consequences differ depending on the reason for the lapses.
- Determine how to consistently talk about academic integrity, including why it is important, what it looks like, who students can turn to when they are struggling with the honor code and what the ramifications for violating it are.
- Establish safe options for students to get information and support to avoid misconduct. Provide resources like Turnitin Draft Coach that can guide them to successful outcomes.
Academic integrity issues are increasing and becoming harder to detect. While schools must address these lapses, they must also consider the bigger picture of creating an environment where—no matter where a student goes—administrators and teachers provide consistent views and support for making honorable decisions.