ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Students cheating on course work is nothing new for high school teachers to have to deal with, but the new virtual learning world is making it easier for some students to give into the temptation.
A teacher at Round Rock High School caught several students cheating during an assessment, according to a letter she emailed to students and parents on Oct. 7. It was forwarded to KXAN by a concerned parent and verified by the Round Rock Independent School District.
“It has come to our attention that some of our students are under a mistaken assumption that assessments are a group effort,” the teacher wrote.
In the letter, the teacher said they were sent screenshots of a group text where students were taking pictures of test questions and discussing the answers. The parents of the students involved were contacted, according to the letter, and would be given a zero on the assessment. They would be allowed to retake the test for a grade of up to 60, per RRISD policy. Teachers give the assessments to track students’ daily learning.
It was unclear if any other disciplinary measures were taken, but the teacher included a list of potential consequences for students caught cheating, including being put on probation or removed from student leadership organizations and suspension from school.
KXAN spoke to a RRISD mother who does not have children in that specific class, but does have a child in high school and another in middle school. She said parents with teenagers in the class sent her a copy of the letter.
“It was really a confirmation for me, because it’s something that I was fully aware was going on,” she said.
The parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said her own children have told her some of their peers have been taking advantage of remote learning, and it’s putting them at a disadvantage.
“Your child is being impacted when the classmates are scoring higher and raising up in their class rank etc.,” she said. “Regardless of whether they are the one who is actively cheating or not.”
RRISD’s Chief of Public Affairs and Communications Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said campuses have been implementing some strategies to fight it. For example, teachers have been redesigning assessments with open-ended and essay-style answers and mixing up the order of multiple choice questions from one test to another.
The district is also turning to higher education experts for advice, who have been dealing with this issue for years.
University of Kentucky Professor Emeritus Dr. Thomas Guskey wrote a recent blog post in Education Week about the topic of student cheating during virtual tests. He recommends some of the same strategies RRISD is implementing.
“If the teacher focuses on higher level skills than they can access on Google and phones, then that sort of thing becomes irrelevant,” said Guskey.
He also said it’s important to have follow-up conversations with the students who cheated, and try to get to the root of why they did it. Guskey said it can help shape the way educators approach the test the next time.
Other Central Texas districts tell KXAN they’re encouraging teachers to give assessments with more open-ended answers as well and require students to justify answers.
The Austin Independent School District says teachers have the ability in the software they’re using to change a setting that prevents students from changing answers once they’re submitted.
In the Hays Consolidated Independent School District students take an oath before each assessment that addresses integrity. The district also uses a browser for tests that allows teachers to scramble questions and answer choices so tests don’t look exactly alike.