BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The issue of academic integrity - or the lack of it - among some students still looms over the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District.
Assistant superintendent Daniel Silvia said he had spoken with Superintendent Russell Lazovick about academic integrity after a previous conversation about cheating concerns. He also said he had spoken with the board’s academic committee and had looked at the infractions that had occurred, such as plagiarism, although not all instances had been captured.
“It’s more than just teaching students what the expectations are,” said Silvia, who added that parents and teachers also have to be involved.
Board member Ann Marie Mead said something needs to be done, and sooner rather than later, not in September when the new school year begins.
“People understand right and wrong,” said Mead. “The kids who are doing (what’s) right are being hurt, and that’s unacceptable to me.”
Board president Jill Gladstone said that if teachers know of instances of academic dishonesty, they have to notify the school district’s administration. Lazovick replied that there will be policy changes.
“Everyone should know right from wrong,” he said, “and be held accountable.”
He added that the matter of academic integrity has to trickle all the way down into student handbooks. Gladstone said she believes a campaign and a multi-pronged approach are needed, as opposed to students saying they have read a handbook.
Mead said students know cheating is wrong, and that there have to be consequences for such behavior. Board member Jeffery Brookner said he believes students would avoid cheating if they knew there was a 50 percent chance of them getting caught, but not if that possibility dropped down to as low as 1 percent.
Board member Zachary Malek said that, in the past, academic integrity policies had been “toothless,” and that cheating was occurring even in Advanced Placement classes, which are used to obtain college credit. He said the severity of discipline has to be increased, along with an increased response to student dishonesty by teachers, and not administrators.
“The biggest focus is on a cultural change,” Malek said.
Lazovick agreed that there has to be a cultural change, and that it has to start now.
Board member Lynne Hurley said proctors at student examinations have to actively proctor those tests, and physically walk around classrooms to discourage and possibly catch cheating. Gladstone said that approach to proctoring has to be taken with all types of testing - not just with AP, SAT or ACT - and that academic integrity has to first be taught in the elementary schools.
Board vice president Jackie Barlow said students needed to be taught to do the right thing “whether someone is watching or not.”
Student representative Kaavya Balamurugan said she believes academic competition in the high school needs to be addressed, but doesn’t exactly know how teachers would discourage such competition. Fellow student representative Tomas O’Heney related that he had witnessed little to no academic integrity among some of his peers, especially among higher-achieving students whose driving force was attending college.
Gladstone said she had heard of instances where students, who were required to turn in their cell phones prior to an examination so as not to use them to cheat, surreptitiously brought a backup phone with them to use that they did not turn in.
Balamurugan explained that nowadays, some students also make use of Apple computerized watches that they access for information during exams. She also said she had not only noticed cheating, but that some students cheated repeatedly, and she wanted to know why their suspensions were not announced if and when they were caught.
Lazovick responded that it was likely a matter of legal issues.
Gladstone said there is a school district in Palo Alto, California, where students who were caught cheating on AP exams not only had to retake their examinations, but were physically separated from one another far enough so as to prevent them from passing notes and other information.
Malek said that no student wanted to have to retake an AP class, although he added that a student’s academic record should contain an area to state that he or she had been caught cheating in a certain course, if that indeed occurred. Lazovick said he believes such information is not permitted to be listed on a student’s transcript, while Gladstone offered that the board could develop a policy to list instances of a student’s cheating in their guidance counselor’s report.
“We have to scare the heck out of these kids to make it stop,” she said.
Brookner suggested taking grade points away from students who were caught cheating, although he added that the board and district has to be careful in such instances or possibly face legal action from a student.
Laura Kress, president of the Bridgewater-Raritan Education Association, said she appreciated that the board is talking about academic integrity.
“It’s a very serious problem,” she said.
Kress said she had witnessed cheating at the eighth grade level, with students copying each other’s homework, especially in more competitive classes. She said teachers are sometimes put in a difficult position when cheating is caught, as parents could counter that their child is not a cheater.
She explained that guidance counselors then have to get involved, and the situation becomes more of a negotiation.
“Sometimes it’s not worth (the hassle),” said Kress, as the onus or burden of proof regarding cheating is on the teachers.
Kress said she also feels that academic dishonesty is a “societal issue,” and not just something that is happening in Bridgewater-Raritan.
At least one major instance of cheating was reported at Bridgewater-Raritan High School earlier in the 2018-2019 school year. A student representative at the board’s Feb. 26 meeting said that the cold-reading portion of an English III examination, along with an exam in AP Microeconomics at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, had been compromised, ostensibly by electronic sharing of test material.
The infractions were discovered, and the tests were then re-administered on Feb. 21.