Education Law

Cheating at School

In a 2005 research study, 75 percent of students admitted to cheating in school; 90 percent admitted to copying another student's test paper or homework. A 2009 study of 2,000 middle and high school students showed 35 percent of them used cell phones to cheat and 52 percent used the internet to cheat.

Cheating at school happens often and at practically all grade levels. It's a growing problem and one parents and schools need to address.


Cheating comes in many shapes and forms, but generally it's when a student uses another person's work and passes it off as his own. For example, it's cheating when a student:

  • Copies answers from another student's test paper
  • Copies another student's homework
  • Uses "crib notes," cell phones, or some other method to secretly look at information to answer test questions. Spelling words, definitions and math formulas are good examples
  • Uses a cell phone or other device to take pictures of tests and exams and sends them to another student, or text messages questions and answers to another student
  • Pays another student to do his homework

Plagiarism is cheating, too. This may take many forms, but some common examples include when a student:

  • Buys a pre-written term paper or essay and turns it in as her own
  • Copies word-for-word another person's opinions or thoughts from a book, magazine, newspaper or online article and passes it on as his own work
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing someone else's opinions or thoughts and passing it on as her own

As you can see, no matter how cheating is done, the result is the same: The student gets credit for work he didn't do for himself and truly didn't earn.

Why It Happens

There are all sorts of reasons why a student might cheat. Only the student can tell you the exact reason why, but some of the reasons are:

Fear of failing. Some students struggle with certain subjects no matter how hard they study and try to do well. Other students may have family or personal problems at home, or they need to work to help support the family, and they "don't have time" to study. In cases like this, students may be more willing to get a little "extra help" on a test or homework assignment by cheating.

Fear of being "average." Students who are driven to excel in school in the hopes of getting into a good college - or even a selective high school, for that matter - may feel the need to cheat to help make sure they get the high grades needed to reach their goals.

Sports and extracurriculars. Schools and parents may make a student's participation in sports and other after-school activities conditional on the student's grades. "No football or band club unless you get straight A's," for example. And high school students hoping for college scholarships based on these extracurriculars may feel even more pressure. They may see cheating as the only and best way to make sure they "make the grade."

Unwilling to do the work, or just plain laziness. Some students don't want to put the time and effort into studying and learning. They take the easy way out by cheating. This may go hand-in-hand with the belief that cheating is "easy" and "no big deal," and "everyone does it."


Cheating in school may have consequences that are immediate, and some consequences may be long-term. For example, the student who gets caught cheating will - or at least should - feel an immediate response from his parents and the school. The punishment should vary depending on the age of the student or his school level, of course. After all, a fifth grader who sneaks a peek at a spelling word shouldn't be punished as harshly as a high school student who plagiarizes a term paper.

Nonetheless, there should be some sort of immediate response, such as:

  • An automatic zero or "F" for the assignment, project, or test. If the student is given another chance to do the work without cheating, the final grade might be reduced as punishment for the cheating
  • Detention or some other form of school discipline that takes away some of the students after-school free time
  • Discipline at home, such as no after-school activities, no play time outside after school or on the weekends, no car, etc.
  • For serious or repeated instances of cheating, a student may be suspended from school for a few days or even expelled or "kicked-out" permanently

Whatever the consequences, the lesson to be learned by the student is that cheating IS a big deal and won't be tolerated at school or at home.

What about long-term consequences? Is cheating on a math test really a life-changing event? Yes, it can be. Forget about the fact cheating may lead to a failing grade, which may mean summer school or repeating a whole grade level. If you think about it, a student who's willing to cheat in grade school is likely to cheat in high school. A high school student who cheats may continue cheating in college.

Actions to Take

Everyone has role to play when it comes to stamping out cheating in school:

  • Schools need to have a tough policy on cheating so students think long and hard about whether to cheat on a test or assignment
  • Teachers and parents need to explain to their students exactly what cheating is
  • Teachers and parents need to be aware of how new technologies can be used to cheat cell phones in the school and about web sites showing students how to cheat and selling papers and other materials
  • Schools and teachers also need to understand that the old tried-and-true methods are still being used today. Crib notes, writing on shoes, watches with calculators, are just a few of the vintage ways of cheating
  • Parents need to stay involved with the student's education. Talk about homework, tests and assignments and help with studies. Keep track of their assignments. If a big term paper or project is suddenly done in one day, you may need to do some investigating
  • Students need to understand that cheating isn't the answer and that everyone isn't doing it. They should also understand the consequences for cheating, both at home and at school

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If my child is caught cheating will it be on her permanent school record? Can we get it removed so doesn't hurt her chances of getting into college?
  • My child was accused of cheating but I believe her when she says she didn't cheat. The school wants to suspend her anyway. How can we stop it?
  • My child is being harassed and bullied by a student who blames my child for getting him caught cheating. The school won't do anything to stop the bullying. What should I do?
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