Get the facts: administrators discuss recent cheating incident

A recent incidence of cheating at Central has students, teachers and administrators concerned about academic integrity. On Nov. 28, a student in Humanities teacher Eleanor Barbino’s AP Macroeconomics class reported to her that other students in the class were cheating or planning to cheat on a test. Barbino passed this information along to the deans, who began an investigation which lead to significant findings of academic dishonesty and, in at least one case, drug-related involvement.

Principal Bill Wiesbrook met with the CT on Dec. 3 to explain the events of that day and elaborated on the actions taken by the school following the incident.

“Mrs. Barbino got that information to the deans and so the deans contacted students, interviewed students and gained possession of cell phones of students,” said Wiesbrook. “[Deans] discovered, through the admission of some of the students and through what they found on the cell phones, that indeed there was some cheating or dishonesty that had been occurring.”

Senior Neel Harrison was in Barbino’s 8th period AP Macroeconomics class and was taking the test when the cheating allegedly occurred.

“[The cheating] was always something that we suspected,” said Harrison. “Three of the people involved in it stood up [during the test] and all asked the same question, and that was if they had to do the short answer [part of the exam].”

After declining to comment the week of the incident, Barbino addressed her AP Macroeconomics students on Dec. 3. She confirmed that “there’s cheating, it’s more than one class, and it’s more than one test.”

AP Macroeconomics is a class that pilots the Bring Your Own Device program, which allows students to use their cell phones or other electronic devices to supplement classroom activities. In light of the incident, where cell phones were a means of cheating, Barbino expressed regret that the BYOD program was being misused.

“[The cheating] is taking BYOD and making it look like the stupidest idea ever,” Barbino said.

According to Assistant Principal for Curriculum Jackie Thornton, along with the photos on the students’ phones, evidence of the cheating came in the form of written statements from the deans on behalf of some of the students under investigation who confessed to cheating.

According to Wiesbrook, before searching their phones, the deans asked for permission from the students being investigated and in each case, the student granted them permission.

“They didn’t tackle the students or frisk them or wrestle their phone away from them,” said Wiesbrook. “Because the phone was identified by the informant and the students themselves as what they were using to do the cheating, it was appropriate for the deans to look through the phone.”

The phone searches helped determine the level and range of the cheating, including how many courses were involved and what assignments had been cheated on.

In terms of consequences, each of the students involved is facing separate disciplinary and academic consequences.

For at least one of those students, disciplinary consequences were for more than just academic dishonesty. Wiesbrook and Thornton confirmed rumors that had been circulating about possible photos of drug usage or text message communications about possession or transactions involving illegal substances.

“At least one of the phones contained some drug-related information,” said Wiesbrook. “I cannot confirm or deny that this included photographs.”

Penalizing actions against students who committed this offense will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Thornton is one of the people involved with determining appropriate ramifications for each individual student.

“I don’t think at this point we could say that students are going to get a zero for all of those assignments [that they cheated on],” said Thornton. “I’m in the process of meeting with each teacher involved and discussing student-by-student, incident-by-incident. In some cases, there was a wide range of disciplinary consequences applied based on the level of involvement, or the duration, or number of classes or prior offenses.”

The academic consequences, including possible ramifications in light of college admission, are still being determined, so Thornton does not yet know how wide-ranging they will be.

“I certainly think that this incident could impact college admissions for some of the students involved but I think it’s too early to know,” Wiesbrook said.

One factor being considered is evidence of prior cheating offenses on the student’s part. However, even if a student had cheated before, the consequences were harsher this time around.

“I guess I would say that this time was different because we had evidence that tests were being distributed,” Thornton said.

An incidence of cheating as widespread and obviously premeditated as this one is rarely accompanied by actual proof that schools can use to deal with the issue. In this case, however, both evidence and magnitude were a part of what made Thornton and Wiesbrook, along with many teachers and students at Central, disappointed and frustrated when hearing about the cheating.

“It wasn’t just one student cheating on one test, so the magnitude of what was happening made it different,” Thornton said.

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