Making cheating irrelevant

The truth is: We could provide modern teaching, learning, and comprehensive assessment opportunities that make cheating not just difficult, but irrelevant. Teachers should be establishing and enforcing standards of quality among our own ranks.

There’s been a hot debate raging over in the higher education world about plagiarism and who really suffers from efforts to stamp it out.

Debates (and fingerpointing) over plagiarism and cheating at all levels of education are not new. Students have long found all sorts of creative ways to get answers on tests or to get others to do their work. Unfortunately, cheating among adults in education is not new either (although it has taken on new national prominence and prevalence since NCLB).

But the discussion at Inside Higher Ed referenced above, as well as the sad revelations in Atlanta and other places, all point to a larger more important point articulated very well, I thought, by the college professor whose comments kicked off the most recent segment of the anti-plagiarism debate. Panagiotis G. Ipeirotis, a computer scientist at NYU states:

I wanted to start a discussion about plagiarism and how we can design our courses and evaluation strategies to make cheating irrelevant.

That’s an idea so profound at this point in our national and local discussions on education reform, that it had to come from the heart of a teacher.

What if we redirected all the energy and resources we are currrently wasting on excessive testing, test preparation, test security, cheating, cheating investigations, cover-ups, and unrealistic AYP goals to making real teaching and learning opportunities available at all our public schools?  The truth is: We could provide modern teaching, learning, and comprehensive assessment opportunities that make cheating not just difficult, but irrelevant.

What if our focus was not on simply measuring student achievement—”the status of subject-matter knowledge, understandings, and skills at one point in time”—but on maximizing student learning—”growth in subject-matter knowledge, understandings, and skill over time“?

That distinction comes from a report commissioned by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards earlier this year, Student Learning, Student Achievement: How Do Teachers Measure Up?  The task force responsible for the report, which included Peggy Carr of NCES, Rick Hess of American Enterprise Institute, and Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford, noted that assessing student learning is more important for determining effectiveness.  Making student learning the focus of our schools, PK-12 through graduate school, would not only inevitably lead to improvements in student achievement, but also help revitalize the much-abused teaching profession.

As a society and as a profession, America and its educators have the ability and the tools to make this shift. The evidence exists in small pockets around the U.S. and in other countries that have taken our best ideas on teaching and learning and actually put them to work. What’s been lacking here is the political foresight and social momentum to make such a shift in our thinking, and ultimately in our policies.

Fortunately, there are indications that necessary grassroots movement by parents, teachers, and students may be gaining strength. At least, that’s what I’m hoping will be one of the lasting effects of the July 30th Save Our Schools March, and surrounding events in D.C. Time to get our eyes back on the prize.

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