Cheating? An Ethical Dilemma

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I recently received a call from a principal who posed this scenario to me that happened within his school. I thought it might make for very interesting discussion, and I’ve asked him for permission to put this out to our readers. To respect the concerns of the school, principal, teacher and student, none of their names will be given.

An 8th grade student has been accessing a social studies website created by a teacher from another school in another state. On this site, the teacher has been posting the exact teacher resources provided by the textbook company: PDF versions of the tests, quizzes, study guides and textbook pages in their original forms. Today the teacher discovered the student with the day’s quiz (this school uses the same textbook) in hand and referred it to the principal’s attention.

The student, in subsequent conversation with the principal, confirmed that he had been accessing the website over time and has been using the resources to prepare for the teacher’s assessments. While the teacher does utilize a variety of assessments in the classroom, she does utilize the stock quizzes included as part of the teacher resources.

Now, we all agree that the teacher posting the textbook material in this way, on her site, is breaking copyright. We might also argue that these stock assessments don’t carry much value. But the ethical dilemma for us is: What, if anything, did the student do wrong? Was the student cheating and wrong to continually go back to this site to get this material knowing it was the exact material his teacher was regularly using?


  1. I think it is correct to prepare for a test using the Internet. The behavior of both teachers was wrong or lazy.

  2. I think he was using his resources.

  3. I don’t see any wrongdoing by the student here. We try and teach our students to be resourceful and this one found, arguably, exactly what was needed.

    The ethics of these teachers may be something different altogether.

    I’m reminded of studying for my Math 12 Class Final. I studied dozens of MoE Provincial Exams and it so happened that the last one I studied was the same one the teacher chose to reprint as the final. Needless to say, I did well on the exam but nobody accused me of cheating. I was a little bit resourceful and a lot lucky.

  4. If assessments are authentic, then there is no delimma. Quizzes should be used to check for understanding. If a kid passes a quiz – great. If a kid passes a quiz because he knew what would be on it – great. But, can the kid who passed the quiz because he had access to the quiz corrently measure the stairs at the school to see if they pass county codes?

    What are we assessing and why?

    Once again, if assessment is authentic, then there is nor problem. The teacher who complained is not thinking out of the textbook assessment box.

  5. I think the comments above are right on target. I would not assign any “weight” to the student’s research or findings. I think the teacher and principal need to focus on goals these assessments; are the results used as teacher feedback to improve teaching, or evidence to hold against a learner?

  6. “I don’t see any wrongdoing by the student here. We try and teach our students to be resourceful and this one found, arguably, exactly what was needed.

    The ethics of these teachers may be something different altogether.”

    I fully agree with Jeremy Inscho’s above comments. In a nutshell they capture the essence of the debate.

  7. 2011. What wins in the workplace? “Middle school algebra” ( ‘518 Algebra jobs matched your search’) or “web research skills” ( ‘1,000+ Web Research jobs matched your search’).

    The game has changed, and the rules are hazy and disfigured by grades and “standards.”

  8. Smart Kid! In my opinion, the real issue was the copyright being broken by the teacher in the other state. This student clearly has a solid grasp about how to access information to help him/her be successful. If anything, this stresses the notion that educators need to move forward with teaching practice and perhaps forgo the canned quizzes provided by textbook providers. Or at the very least, find new ways to utilize the resources they are choosing to use.

  9. There is nothing wrong with students preparing for exams by using previous exams or other online resources that help them learning for it. It is up to the teachers to change the questions and update the exam any time they give it out. I hope there are additional ways the teacher assess his students.

  10. I do not think the student did anything wrong in regards to cheating. We might have wished that he notified the teacher that this resource was available on line but he is not bound by any rule to do so – would be a personal ethical position. He was smart enought to search for information and the fact he was able to find an exam that was not supposed to be there is not his problem. The teacher should just mover from this point to change the tests now that he knows that someone illegally posted them.

  11. In today’s day and age, I don’t think the student was cheating. This student took the initiative to look for supplemental resources online to assist in his/her learning, and those resources just so happened to coincide (exactly) with the teacher’s assessments. What the student may be guilty of is a lack of judgement to not inform the teacher that these materials were posted online, however, but I think the real issue here is the types of tests/assessments some educators continue to use to evaluate “learning”. If the assessments are recall/fill-in-the-blank type questions, designed to evaluate how much of the content provided (in installments) by the teacher the student can remember on game day, then the real problem is the measure. Teachers do not control content any longer, so measures designed to check for retention of delivered content are faulty. New measures that check for the depth of understanding of content are what are needed, and content (found on the internet or otherwise) is simply fuel for learning activities which can lead to that understanding.

  12. I had a great discussion with my Grade 5 class about this. The majority thought that the student was ethically wrong but the blame lies with the teacher who posted the material online. This discussion led to some heated debates with a couple of students thinking that the teacher who simply used the blackline masters was in the wrong.

  13. Not a chance. Poor and lazy teaching is to blame. I’m sure many teachers use these pre-made quizzes….at least take the time to change or modify them.

    The student however also has an ethical delimma. Should they perhaps not brought it to the teachers attention that they (and most likely others) had access to these pre-made test and were using them to practice with?

  14. I only hope my kids will be this resourceful. I hope their teachers will be more creative. Maybe the teacher posting the original information on the web was providing it for student review and reworking the quizzes to be his/her own work.

    It would be cheating if the student accessed the information in class using a personal electronic device.

    Is the principal sure the student didn’t share the resource with friends? It might explain away a high class average.

  15. I completely agree that these tests were not authentic assessments, and I, too, hope that the teacher was using multiple assessments in her class. Like the others who commented, the teacher posting the tests to her webpage was breaking copyright and should not have done it.
    There are multiple wrongs in this situation, but I disagree with everyone above who says that the student did not display poor ethical behavior. After the first time the student accessed a test and found it to be identical to the one he took in class, the ethical thing for the student to do would have been to approach the teacher, explain what happened, and ask if it was okay for him to use this resource in the future. The fact that he kept it a secret from the teacher tells a lot.
    Just because someone is clever enough to find something, doesn’t make it right for them to use what they find. What if the student found the identical test in a non-electronic format? What if he had gone to the teacher’s class after school to ask a question and happened to find the teacher’s door unlocked, entered the classroom, and found the test lying on her desk? Would it have been okay for the student to take it and use it as a study tool? The student was, after all, being resourceful and studious by taking the initiative to go to the teacher’s room and ask for help. If the student wasn’t supposed to use it, well, it’s the teacher’s fault for not locking her room, right? I think in this new case, most people would agree that the student displayed unethical behavior. But how is it so different from the original situation described?
    There are all kinds of things that kids can find on the internet, but that doesn’t mean that all of it should be sought after by them. Because kids have access to so much stuff, we need to be even more diligent in teaching them how to deal with the information they come across. What do they do when they stumble upon information that is inappropriate or that, perhaps, they weren’t supposed to see? This is a question we need to be exploring with kids.
    This is an example of how our culture is moving away from one in which individuals accept personal responsibility and ethics and toward one that is much more self-centered.

  16. I don’t think it was necessarily unethical, but he needs more structure.

  17. The student was behaving as a typical teenager who happened to be most resourceful and shrewd. On the other hand the teacher was dishonest by using copyrighted material as well as being lazy by not preparing her own material. One has to be careful about the material one accesses from the Internet.


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