Confronting cheaters

May 23, 2007

As any educator knows, cheating is as old as testing. So news that three students at Severna Park High School may have cheated on an Advanced Placement test is not surprising. But it's certainly disturbing. The Educational Testing Service, which administered the exam on behalf of the College Board, has rightly canceled the scores for more than 40 students in one testing room after finding that a proctor didn't do his job.

Anne Arundel County school officials made the correct decision to keep those students from retaking the test tomorrow. They still need to confront the "culture of cheating" that students say exists at the school.

In the past five years, more Anne Arundel students have been encouraged to take Advanced Placement courses in subjects such as math and science. Not only are AP courses considered more challenging, but upon successful completion of exams, students can earn college credits to put them ahead in their quest for higher education. But has the pressure to excel gotten out of hand?

During the AP American history exam at Severna Park High two weeks ago, three young women from one exam room allegedly were able to sneak a sealed booklet of essay questions into a restroom and consult a review book for answers. An inexperienced test supervisor apparently fell down on the job and failed to follow established procedures for administering AP tests.

Such slipshod test supervision happens perhaps once or twice a year, according to the testing service, and its cure is to cancel the scores of all the students in that testing room.

That's a harsh result for the majority of students who presumably didn't cheat, but it's fair when testing conditions are so disruptive that scores have little validity.

More troubling, however, is the sense among many Severna Park High students that lax oversight of tests and classwork has become routine. In a student-conducted survey, 69 percent of students said they felt that a culture of cheating exists at the school, and 50 percent felt that teachers were powerless to stop it.

That should make the principal and other school officials take action. Cheaters should not get credit for the AP course. Because without consequences, cheating will be seen as acceptable -- and that's not a lesson any student should be learning.

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