Cheating culture at BHS is rooted in student disinterest

Each year, as it has been for decades, students start their school year greeted with the same message: “Don’t cheat, you’ll get a zero, I’ll fail you in this class,” said a Berkeley High School student who chose to remain anonymous, mimicking teachers at BHS.

Regardless, students still cheat. And further supervision and punishment will not change the root cause: Students don’t care. Grades come first, and satisfaction and learning comes second. 

This indifference is fueled by a common sentiment: “You’re never gonna have exam conditions outside of an exam,” said Ty Walthall, a BHS student. Walthall recently shadowed a doctor in the ER, and found that while medical knowledge came first, doctors would often double-check by asking a colleague or doing a Google search. Problem-solving skills, not trivia, are what linger after high school. The true value of an education lies in how you approach new problems.

Karl Kaku, an english teacher at BHS, believes that a focus on grades is what drives most students to resort to dishonesty. “I wish we didn’t have grades … if we didn’t have grades, I think that might change things; If we had more authentic assessment,” he said.

According to another BHS student who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “My hardest classes are the ones that I usually find myself having to cheat in, so I can try to maintain my grade,” they said. 

Tools such as Google Translate allow anybody with an internet connection to quickly translate information. The rudimentary translations are not always accurate, but they’re good enough. But because translation apps can’t handle speech or longer writing, those skills become more important.

Similarly, tools such as Google search and ChatGPT mean that memorizing vast amounts of information or basic writing response assignments are no longer as important. So why are students still memorizing formulas or writing one sentence responses, when this only lessens their desire to do honest work?

Students have a limited amount of mental energy available, and many commit to too many activities at once to give 100 percent for each one, especially towards the end of the year, when testing only ramps up. This means that staying engaged in the things they’re learning in school remains even more critical, which can be accomplished through adjusting teaching styles and content.

Moving towards assessments, rather than memorization focused exams, when possible, could alleviate some of this pressure. Assessments offer more subject flexibility, hopefully making them less tiresome than brute force testing. Besides, assessments are harder to cheat on. If students use ChatGPT or copy a classmate, their work will be considerably worse. This form of testing allows students real understanding and knowledge to be evaluated, rather than just their ability to regurgitate information or think in the way that exams do. That development of skills is critical.

“Producing the analysis in the moment with that data is something that either you’ve developed the skills for, or you haven’t, or somewhere in between, but it’s not something where you can just memorize the answers to something and take a shortcut,” Nick Pleskac, a science teacher at BHS, said.

While it may not be possible in every class, policymakers and society as a whole must recognize that with an uncertain future, skills applicable in any situation are still incredibly valuable, especially in high school. Developing skills like analysis and writing, rather than just memorization, when students will almost always have access to a search engine like Google, sets students up for far more success. Overreliance on rote work cheats students out of their time, and is irrelevant to the modern world. 

The second anonymous student said, “I feel like at a certain point … I have no desire to learn these things because I’m not gonna go into a profession where I’m actually going to use them.”