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How to Deal With Cheating

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How to Deal With Cheating

Chances are, you regularly face problems with cheating and academic dishonesty.  In fact, 95% of high school students have admitted to cheating in some form.  We put so much of ourselves into teaching, it hurts to see students not value their education or our efforts.  Plus, cheating can seem very straightforward: you do your work honestly or you don’t.  However, that’s not necessarily the case.  Our students are learning, and we must expect and even welcome mistakes.  So, how can we be prepared to handle problems like plagiarism and academic dishonesty?  


First, let’s define what we’re talking about.  Academic dishonesty and intentional or unintentional plagiarism can take many forms including copying a classmate’s work, googling the answers to an assignment, copy-pasting part of an essay, or not citing a source.   

Often, when a student plagiarizes, it’s done unintentionally.  How well do your students understand copyright, citations, and fair use?  Have they mastered paraphrasing and properly citing sources?  As students’ skills develop, it’s fair to expect students to copy something they find online or use a friend’s words to complete an assignment.  As educators, we are responsible for teaching students about plagiarism, developing critical skills, and applying appropriate consequences when problems do occur. 


Identifying the reasons why a student is cheating can help you find the right approaches to prevent it in the first place.  Ask yourself: 

  • Is cheating the easiest way to get more points and thus a better grade in the class?  
  • Will students lose points if they hand in an assignment late?  
  • Do students fear making mistakes? (Will they earn fewer points? Not have a chance to try again?) 
  • Do students value the work?  Is it clearly connected to a learning goal? 
  • Do students understand plagiarism or academic dishonesty? 

There’s a lot to unpack here (that doesn’t begin to fit on this page) but your responses to these questions can help identify root causes to poor academic integrity.


Ultimately, academic dishonesty is a behavioral problem and should be treated as such with disciplinary consequences rather than academic grade reduction.  What exactly these consequences look like will depend on factors like the age of the student, previous violations, and the level of dishonesty.  

Consequences to consider: 

  • Educate the student (Do they even understand what they did wrong?)
  • Communicate with parents
  • Require honest completion of the work or an alternative assignment
  • Require an apology to those affected (Did the student present a classmate’s work as his own?  Did the student intentionally deceive the teacher?)
  • Remove a privilege (honor society, co-curricular activities, class privileges, etc.)

What’s NOT included in the above list? Giving the student a zero.  Why?  A failing grade does not address the actual behavioral problem and skews the student’s grade.  Do they actually know ZERO of the content?  That’s unlikely, but we don’t know yet.  Students should still be required to complete the work and their grades should reflect what they know and can do.  Plus, how many of us know a student who would gladly take a zero rather than complete the assignment?  I do–I bet you do too.  A zero can provide an easy way out of accountability for some students. 


I’ve also seen teachers ignore plagiarized work altogether because it’s such a headache to deal with.  Maybe it’s ungraded classwork, so it doesn’t seem significant. Or maybe the student receives a zero, but the teacher never discusses the reasons with the student.  However, like everything in the classroom, consistency is important.  No matter the weight of the assignment, make your expectations clear and consequences consistent.  If a student repeatedly violates your academic honesty policy, be prepared with appropriate education and consequences for each violation.  Get your school community involved in creating a clear and consistent policy.

Let us know–how do you deal with academic dishonesty? Want to discuss these problems and solutions in more detail?  Get in touch with our professional learning team:

Like these ideas? To learn classroom engagement strategies that make the most immediate impact, we recommend checking out our program, "Fostering Engagement Online Course."

Learn More >

Amy Jimenez

Author Since: May 8, 2018

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