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Debra Matell Cohen, Ed.D.

John Winthrop Wright Director of Ethical Education


Teachers and school administrators have always been concerned with student cheating. However, what we’re learning is that online learning offers students new ways to cheat on their assignments or tests. Research has shown that during the pandemic there has been a rise in students completing assignments with the help of a third party. It’s called contract cheating. This article will examine what K-12 educators can do to prevent academic dishonesty in their classrooms and schools. In addition, I explain the steps that need to be taken when a teacher discovers that a student has cheated on an assignment or test.

Clearly, cheating is a widespread and pervasive issue and one that needs to be addressed by school administrators and educators and reinforced by parents and other caring adults. Perhaps not surprisingly, during the coronavirus pandemic, reports of cheating jumped as student learning moved online, with one university reporting a 79% increase from fall 2019 to spring 2021. Although increased use of online proctoring tools may be somewhat responsible for this alarming figure, it’s important to understand the scope of this problem so we can talk about how to address it.

Teachers can adopt several well-documented strategies to reduce student cheating. Each of these 5 strategies supports the belief that teachers can proactively create a classroom culture that promotes the importance of academic integrity:

1. Shift the language of your classroom from a focus on grades and achievement to language that reinforces effort, hard work, and students “doing their best.

2. Align your learning objectives, instruction, and assessment. We know from the research that developing clear learning objectives will result in clearer student expectations and less student anxiety.

3. Offer lower-stakes assessments and create opportunities for students to re-take assessments.

4. Implement self-diagnostic opportunities for students so they can learn where they may need to improve before taking a high-stakes assessment

5. Find ways to help students reduce their text anxiety, including mindfulness training.

Yet we know that even when a teacher or school has made an intentional effort to create a culture of academic honesty, some students will still cheat on an assignment or assessment. The following are the steps a teacher should take when a student has cheated:

  • Meet in private with the student to discuss the behavior.
  • Encourage the student to explain why he or she cheated.
  • Discuss why being honest is important.
  • Explain to the student the consequences for cheating
  • Consider speaking to the student’s parent or care provider
  • Continue to support the student in the coming weeks so the student knows you care and want to help him or her resist the impulse to cheat on future assessments.

There are terrific resources available to help teachers and administrators create a culture of academic integrity at your school. The School for Ethical Education has a toolkit, Creating a Culture of Academic Integrity, that offers a comprehensive approach to fostering honesty and integrity throughout the school.

Both parents and teachers have an important role in helping students resist the pressure to cheat on academic work. The challenge for teachers is to create a classroom culture where students don’t feel the need to cheat; rather, they feel empowered to learn and perform at their best. By fostering a culture of honesty in their classrooms, teachers will inspire their students to practice integrity, not only on their academic journeys but throughout their lives.

Read the previous parts of this series, Why Do Kids Lie? and Why Do Kids Steal? and sign up to receive the “Ethics in Action” blog and webinar series in your Inbox. Be sure to subscribe to receive Parts 4-5 in the Why Do Kids Cheat? series:

Part 4: What Workplace Leaders Can Do When Their Employees are Cheating
Part 5: Webinar: An Interview with an Expert on Why Students Cheat

To sign-up for our “Ethics in Action” blog and webinar series, click here.

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