Schools crack down on cheating, but students aren't always sure what it means

Most high schoolers engage in serious cheating, even within a very narrow definition of the term.

When it comes to term papers, plagiarism does not always manifest itself as a simple cut-and-paste job from the Internet. At one school in Fremont, CA, reports The Mercury News, students divvied up their assigned questions, exchanged answers via e-mail, altered the text slightly, then handed in their individual papers.

Did the students collaborate or cheat?

Teachers and administrators are on high alert when it comes to cheating. The Internet has made sharing (or stealing) information a national pastime. One way to combat the problem is to set clear standards with students. Some schools are banning iPods, on which students can preset answers to tests so they display as innocuous song titles. Schools are also hiring services that use computers to scan essays for plagiarism—a booming business.

In a Rutgers University study last year, 70 percent of 18,000 high school students across the country admitted to "serious test cheating,'' and 60 percent said they had plagiarized. The study's author says the real numbers are probably higher because students today have narrowed how they define cheating.

A heavy course load is often an invitation to "creative collaboration." "We're so used to it, it doesn't feel like cheating,'' said Alexi Dagan, a junior at Palo Alto High School.


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