By Nina Johnson
During final exams this May, Carmel High School received a report through the Anonymous Alert system alleging student cheating incidents. Administrators investigated the claims and disciplined less than 20 confirmed cases of cheating across three separate class exams.
Some parents, however, claim the number of offenders exceeded 120 students concentrated in two exams and have petitioned for answers. These parents expressed “outrage” and insisted only students who instigated the cheating were disciplined with one-day suspensions while all offenders were required to retake an exam identical to the first.
One parent asked, “When did the standards for CHS become so diluted?”
“I heard a couple freshmen cheated on a history test awhile back, but it wasn’t the finals,” one student said.
Carmel Clay community relations coordinator Tricia Reynolds maintained the number of confirmed offenders did not exceed 20.
“Administrators investigated the claim and identified all who were involved and delivered appropriate discipline,” Reynolds said. She pointed out administrators identified those involved “to their best extent.”
The Carmel Clay student handbook officially states: “Cheating and plagiarism compromise the integrity and character of students and does not align with the mission and philosophy of CHS.”
“Those students did not take the same test,” Reynolds said. “In fact, the students had to come in the day after school was out to take a different test on their own time.”
Reynolds confirmed students found to be instigators received “a more severe punishment” while all declared participants received some form of discipline.
The handbook proclaims: “A student who has committed a disciplinary infraction will be afforded due process in proportion to the disciplinary action taken by school officials.”
Disciplinary procedures include a sequence of discussion and counseling, detention and parental involvement. Disciplinary action begins with “probation or other minor disciplinary action” with possible escalation to suspension or expulsion.
Though the handbook provides a long list of possible student misconducts, Indiana law ultimately defines the grounds for suspension or expulsion.
One parent asked why student athletes caught drinking on school grounds risk suspension from half their season while “cheating results in no suspension or loss of (extracurricular) privileges.”
Reynolds explained student athletes are bound by a signed code of conduct as well as state and federal law.
“Underage drinking is illegal. Cheating, while unethical, is not illegal,” she said.
National school cheating scandals have prompted many districts to revisit their policies regarding cheating. Last fall, 125 Harvard students were forced to withdraw from the university after investigations found too many similar answers on a government class take-home exam.
Soon after, Carmel Clay Schools updated its policy to clarify the difference between collaboration and cheating. The high school newspaper HiLite published a flowchart submitted by Assistant Principal John Newton to assist students in understanding the difference.
Stanford University’s Challenge Success report states “many people are surprised to hear just how prevalent cheating is among high school students.” The report claims “between 80 and 95 percent of high school students admit to engaging in some form of cheating.”
Dr. Denise Pope of Stanford’s Challenge Success program emphasized cheating was not an issue limited to struggling students. “In fact,” said Pope in a National Education Association Today interview, “studies show that high-achieving students cheat almost as much as other students.”
A 2008 Educational Studies article by University of Connecticut’s Jason Stephens and Heather Nicholson listed students’ reasons for cheating as “feeling unable to do the work, feeling bored by the work and feeling pressure to do well.”
“Carmel Clay Schools treats cheating as a discipline issue and thoroughly and immediately investigates all claims to the best of their ability,” Reynolds said.