[Jan. 2017 Features] Cheating Academic integrity lost. Consquences of an act punishable by failing goes unenforced.


By Becky Hoving ’17 &  Thomas Nealon ’17


The last four answers for tomorrow’s Scantron test. Your sister’s old Econ notes. A Google Doc shared with two-thirds of the class. All of these academic strategies can be identified as cheating under Staples’ current Academic Integrity Policy, yet they are everyday occurrences for many students.

“Usually you don’t face the consequences, and you think to yourself, I can get away with this,” an anonymous senior boy said. “Nearly  everyone  gets away with it.” In a survey  with 45  students, about 67  percent claimed that they have  cheated.

The Staples High School 2016-17 student handbook explicitly states a range of consequences for a student’s first offense that might include a grade reduction, receiving a zero or whatever the teacher deems appropriate for the situation.

However, the handbook also states that “for any subsequent occurrence in any course at Staples High School, the student shall immediately be dropped from the course and receive an “F” for a final grade.”

Due to these extreme measures, teachers choose not to “start students down that path,” according to Principal James D’Amico. “A lot of teachers didn’t think the policy was helpful to students as a learning tool, so they don’t use it,” he said. “If no one is using the policy, there is no policy.”

In response to these complications, D’Amico has established the Academic Integrity Committee, which plans to develop a revised policy for approval by April 2017. The policy hopes to “explicitly align to Westport’s guiding principles, create a system prioritizing learning opportunities over grade-based consequences, and establish tiers of responses focused around problems that may lead to cheating or plagiarism,” according to Kemen Zabala, a Spanish teacher and the chairwoman of the committee.

Zabala later identified the Committee’s main issue with the current two-strike policy.

“It restricts the ability of the school to have the policy be a meaningful teaching and learning tool,” Zabala said. She also noted that the current policy lacks clarity on what precisely qualifies as cheating, leading some students to claim that they don’t even know where to draw the line.  

At first, when an anonymous junior girl was asked if she had cheated before, she reported that she had not. However, upon reflection about essay help and group notes, she changed her answer. “I guess I have cheated then,” she said. “Maybe without even realizing it.”

This lack of intent is also what D’Amico hopes to address in the revised policy, and he recognized that the academic stresses at Staples can lead to somewhat drastic measures.  

“A lot of incidents don’t come from the malicious intent of cheating—they come from the fact that a student has three other papers due that day, or the class is too difficult for them,” he said. “A lot of the times the pressure or the stake or trying to take a shortcut is what leads to cheating, [and] not a student trying to do something necessarily bad.”

Alyssa Hyman ’18 echoed this sentiment on her end. “People take things really seriously now in [the] face of college applications and higher stakes, and they’ll do anything they can to get the grades that they need.”

The new policy aims to counteract this culture by identifying not just how cheating is unethical but how doing one’s own work and own research is better for a student’s learning, according to D’Amico.

However, a new policy wouldn’t necessarily rid Staples of cheating or the stigmas, both positive and negative, that come with it, according to D’Amico.

Two anonymous senior boys, for example, felt that the consequences of cheating did not loom that heavily over them.

“Yeah, I have cheated on the SAT before, and I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments,” one boy said.

“It’s like stock trading,” the other senior boy said. “You evaluate the risks and the gains, and if you can get away with cheating successfully, I think you’ve earned the grade.”

D’Amico acknowledged that this culture might still persist at Staples, even after the new policy is introduced.

“As long as there are rules, someone will break them. I don’t think we will totally squash cheating so to speak, but we can definitely make changes to a culture of cheating,” he said. “Cheating is something we want to see outside the norm, not the norm.”

He also hopes to accompany the policy by fostering a teaching culture more focused on “the teachable moment,” one that focuses on the importance of ethical behavior and honesty.

“There are instructional shifts that need to be made, too,” he said. “It’s not just the policy. That is long, hard work, but it is worthwhile.”