Proposal targets cheating in schools

Annapolis High senior wants to quell fraud

May 07, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

In the wake of a cheating scandal at Annapolis High School, the student member on Anne Arundel County's Board of Education wants the board to adopt a system-wide policy that addresses academic dishonesty.

D. Andrew Smith, a senior at Annapolis High, has prepared a rough draft of his proposal and plans to raise the issue at the next school board meeting May 17. He hopes that the effort can be his last board project before his term ends June 30.

Although the county's student handbook outlines punishments for cheating, plagiarism and forgery, Smith wants the issue of academic integrity to be addressed formally by the board.

"I think we need to be a little more specific in defining cheating and expressly prohibiting it," said Smith, 17.

Smith is in a unique position to initiate board policy changes, as the only student board member in the country with full voting rights, according to the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils.

He said that school boards in Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have policies addressing cheating.

Smith's initiative was prompted by the discovery last month that about 15 students in an advanced placement biology class -- including as many as five in the National Honor Society -- had cheated on a test in the college-level course.

He said the National Honor Society students were dismissed from the organization as a result of their actions. Other possible penalties included notifying their parents, a zero on the assignment, detention, suspension and an impact on academic and job references.

Annapolis High Principal Joyce Smith said that the students involved -- about half of the class -- had been punished, but she would not provide details.

"They made a mistake, and they have been disciplined," Smith said. "It's something that is very hurtful to a small number of students who have never done anything wrong in their lives."

The principal said she supports Smith's effort to put in place an official board policy condemning cheating.

The student board member said cheating is not uncommon at county schools.

"I'd say cheating is very widespread in all schools, at all levels, among all groups of students," Smith said. He added that the practice is especially prevalent among students in honors courses.

"They care more about their grades, and they want to achieve more," he said.

Smith said he finds it ironic that Annapolis High is the focus of a cheating incident, since the school is the only one in the county with a written honor code. The school adopted the code, modeled after one at Anne Arundel Community College, when Joyce Smith became principal six years ago.

"Academic integrity is important because it's part of a learning process for students," the principal said.

Smith said that the cheating was discovered after the students in the biology class graded their tests. The teacher had made copies of the students' tests before going over the answers with the class. When she compared the original and graded tests she found that some students had corrected their answers.

Smith said that some students in the school have criticized the teacher for making copies of the students' original answers. But he said the teacher had used that grading method all year.

"I feel bad for her because she trusted her students and they abused her trust," Smith said.

Smith said he has talked individually with the seven other school board members about his proposal, and they all were willing to listen to his concerns.

Board member Michael J. McNelly, however, said cheating may be an issue that is better dealt with by school administrators.

"We need to look at the issue because we have a student board member that has raised some concerns," he said. "But I'm not totally convinced that we need to take the issue out of the classroom and put it with the Board of Education."

"But he may convince me with his arguments," McNelly said.

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