Academic Dishonesty and Grading

23 Jan

As a former coach, I love the period of time between the end of college football season and the NFL Draft.  I find myself glued to the NFL Network as analysts give their evaluation of player skills during the Senior Bowl and NFL Draft Combine.  I guess I am kind of a nerd when it comes to sports and how players are evaluated in order to predict their performance.

And really, that is what Standards-Based Learning is.  During last night’s #sblchat on Twitter, one of the topics of discussion was academic dishonesty and grading.  Does the learner get a zero?  A redo?  The common question I often hear is “If students are doing something wrong, why should it become more work for the teacher?”

Well, this is a tricky area.  First, let me say that I understand how teachers feel when cheating occurs in their classroom.  They feel it is disrespectful and should have severe consequences.  Students must be taught a lesson.  I agree overall with that.  Students should learn the importance of academic integrity and being honest with their own learning progress.  Where I divide with many is that the grade and the behavior must remain separate.  As standards-based grading proponents have pointed out, a grade is a piece of communication.  It is not currency, an incentive, a weapon, a punishment, or a reward.  It represents student progress (or should).

A zero says the student knows nothing.  Not that he/she cheated, but that he/she knows nothing.  If we give a zero for cheating, we are not reporting accurate information.  So what consequences does a student receive?  That depends on your school’s discipline policy.  There is a referral process for discipline, and academic dishonesty should have some sort of consequence (and please let the consequence be a detention served, possibly re-assessing with a proctor- not simply more work/writing/etc).

Because I believe the issues surrounding grading and giving zeroes needs to be something teachers work towards naturally, I tell teachers that if a student is caught cheating they should call home, write a referral, and submit to the student’s assistant principal-  and what they do with their grade is their discrection, and I will support them.  But next we usually have a good conversations through the incident on what a grade is and what it reports.  Often, teachers will end up giving the student the opportunity to reassess as long as they feel the student’s behavior is being dealt with.  Sometimes, they feel strongly that the student “deserves” the zero- but those have become fewer and farther between as our school moves towards standards-based assessment and accurate grading.

Bringing this back to college football, I think of the cheating/behavior scandals of some big-name players and coaches over the last few years.  A couple of years ago, Reggie Bush was stripped of his Heisman for NCAA recruiting violations.   This past year, Johnny Manziel was suspended (very, very briefly) for allegedly breaking NCAA regulations.  Still, when those players had those issues, breaking ethics codes became only part of their stories.  They were and are still evaluated on their speed, strength, football IQ, leadership ability, etc., and teams were aware that they had talent “but” there were some issues to be aware of.  Bush was the 2nd overall pick, and Manziel looks like a top 5 pick this year- based on their overall package.  They weren’t told they had to give up football forever, or they would lose salary from their rookie contract.  What mattered is what teams saw by the time they were ready to draft.  They knew and know what these players can do well, and what they can’t, and they make a decision based on that assessment.

Now, other sports have had more severe cheating scandals (steriods in major league baseball), that have carried more severe consequences (long-term suspensions, being left out of the Hall of Fame).  But this mirrors life, too.  I can’t get away with cheating in my job, and could be fired if I go against regulations that govern what I do.  But I’m also a professional who has learned there are certain things that must be done a certain way, and that my position holds high moral and ethical standards.  Students are still learning the ability to discern that.

The stakes get bigger as they move into college and the professional world, so there should be consequnces, as previously.  However, giving a zero and moving on is really letting them off the hook from their main responsbilities as a student.  This is the responsibility to learn and demonstrate what they have learned, and what they haven’t.  Hammering them with an insurmountable F, on top of any disciplinary consequences, is not appropriate, and it certainly does not pass the test of good communication.  Addressing the behavior and learning as two separate entities is a best practice that we need to see more of.


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