And while cheating is nothing new, the way some are doing it is.
Crib notes? Peeking at someone else's paper?
How last century.
Today's well-equipped cheater is armed with high-tech tools that have ushered in a new age of digital deception. Even as schools have started using technology to fight an epidemic of downloaded papers and cut-and-paste plagiarism, new threats have arrived:
Camera phones can take and transmit pictures of tests or send silent text messages to request or provide answers. MP3 players can hold downloaded notes as easily as they can hold music.
Scanners and computer editing programs can turn the ingredients section of candy wrappers into customized cheat sheets. According to reports in technology magazines, Mentos is often used because of its long paper label, which can be unrolled, flattened and easily scanned.
It's unclear whether cheating has grown with technology. But technocheating will only worsen as digital technology gets smaller, cheaper and into more hands.
Last year, 36 percent of U.S. cell phones had a camera, according to technology research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass. That figure is expected to jump to 55 percent by the end of this year and reach 87 percent by 2009.
Cheaters also have pioneered new low-tech methods, including printing notes on the inside of water bottle labels and writing on the inside of popular LiveStrong bracelets.
One of the worst cases of technocheating came earlier this year in Sugarland, Texas. A 17-year-old student placed a keystroke decoder on the back of a teacher's computer. The device logs everything that's typed, including passwords. The result: The boy stole and sold the teacher's tests. He was caught and charged with a misdemeanor.
Cheaters also can copy large amounts of information on USB flash drives - computer memory units small enough to keep on a key chain, said Dale Griffin, owner of Computer Depot.
"It's a matter of plugging it in. Takes 10 seconds. And who looks at the back of their computer? We sell 256-megabyte flash drives for $28, well within a student's budget."
Rich Cavallaro, manager of information services for Shawnee Mission schools, said his district has protected itself.
"We do everything within our power as far as safeguarding the environment," he said. "We do not allow students, or anyone, to install executable programs such as key loggers. We have locked down the systems so that the user cannot boot up the computer from a flash drive."
But nothing, he said, can replace diligent monitoring by teachers.
"I don't think the ingenuity of our students should ever be underestimated," he said.
Shawn Bowers, now a 19-year-old college freshman, said some students at Shawnee Mission North High School programmed answers into their graphing calculators, which can store words as well as numbers. They either found excuses to use them during tests, "or they'd pop it out of their backpack, look at it, then throw it back in," he said.
Last December, Rockhurst High School senior Steve Yanda wrote a story about cheating for the school newspaper. In an informal poll of 400 students, 73 percent admitted to some form of cheating. Several students told him they used text messaging to cheat on tests.
"It's hard for teachers to know because most of the time they are not staring at the students," Yanda said. "They're working on something else or grading papers."
Rockhurst assistant principal Larry Ruby said he hasn't seen any cases of technocheating, but promised swift punishment for any that arise. A first offense earns a zero grade and a letter to parents. A second offense: probation. A third instance could result in dismissal.
Deb Pontier, a math and computer programming teacher at Shawnee Mission East, doesn't think technocheating is widespread. But she can't be sure.
"I haven't seen a lot of it, but I don't know if they are just better at hiding it than we are at finding it," she said.
She has had some problems.
"I've seen kids who have saved files on computers in order to cheat," she said. "They can change settings that you don't know they can change. Or somebody else can pull the program up and use that to cheat. It's very hard to catch."
Christy Darter, a science teacher at Raytown High School, said students have always found innovative ways to cheat. Technology is just the latest. The best defense against cheating of any kind, she said, is good teaching. It's easier to steal answers for multiple choice tests. But tests that require students to apply a depth of knowledge make cheating far harder.
"Don't give them an opportunity to cheat, and they don't cheat," she said.
One national cheating study seems to bear good news. Of the 24,763 high school students surveyed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles, only 62 percent reported cheating. That's a 12 percentage point drop from two years ago, and the first decline in the survey in a dozen years.
But that may be misleading, said institute spokeswoman Melissa Mertz.
"We don't know why the number went down," she said. "One theory is that students don't consider certain behaviors to be cheating anymore, they're just so pervasive."
As proof, she cited a major disconnect between students' behavior and perception. While 62 percent admitted to cheating, 92 percent said they were satisfied with their ethics and character.
Another problem: parents. In a survey of high achievers by Who's Who Among American High School Students, 60 percent reported cheating because it "didn't seem like a big deal." An even greater number of parents, 65 percent, agreed with them.
Many schools have taken steps to deal with the most common form of technocheating-using the Internet to download or plagiarize papers. Many teachers now require students to submit papers to sites such as turnitin.com, which compares papers with those found on the Internet for similarity.
Tim Dodd, executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, says that's not enough.
"We will do a poor job if the only approach we try is to win the arms race - fight their technology with our technology," he said. "We have to go back to a fundamental point: why honest behavior in the classroom and honest scholarship outside the classroom (matters). I am not as concerned about the changing technology as I am about the changing messages that students receive, that they have to get the best grades to get into the best schools to get the best jobs."
Rockhurst's Ruby said students need to realize there are more important things than grades, such as honesty and integrity.
"I've never seen anyone put their GPAs on their tombstone," he said. "You know, 'Here lies Larry, 4.1.' That's not what matters at the end of life. It matters what kind of man or woman you were."
How they cheat
According to national studies, media reports, educators and students:
Camera phones: Cheaters snap a picture of a test and send it to a friend who has the same class later in the day. They also turn a phone list into an electronic cheat sheet. If schools ban cell phones, some students sneak them into cargo pants or purses with clear pockets.
Text messaging: Students use cell phones to request or provide answers to multiple choice questions.
MP3 players: Notes can be recorded and stored in MP3 format to be played back over headphones during a test - more a problem in college than in high schools.
Candy wrappers: A wrapper can be unrolled and flattened, then scanned into a computer. A graphic editing program can change the ingredients section into a cheat sheet.
Laser pointers: One student who studied for the test helps others. The pointer, which can look like a pen, is first used to circle a number, such as 1, somewhere in the room. Next the cheater circles a letter-such as B. The answer to question 1 is B.
Keystroke decoders and USB mass storage devices: These small, inexpensive devices can be placed on the back of computer systems to help steal passwords, tests and other information off computer hard drives.
James Bond Stealth Camera: The high-resolution digital camera looks like a lighter and sells for under $80. Cheaters can keep them in their pockets, then snap quick pictures of tests to help friends in later classes.
Graphing calculators: Students can program formulas, or even whole vocabulary lists, into them.
Personal digital assistants: Many look like simple calculators, but they can hold cheating notes.
How schools can fight back
Talk to students about cheating, and make honesty and integrity the highest priority.
Ban cell phones in school, or confiscate them if found.
Teachers should walk around the classroom during a test. "It all boils down to being vigilant," said Shawnee Mission North English teacher Donna Hobbs. "You can't just sit at your desk and grade papers. You have to watch them."
Check computers daily for foreign devices attached to the back or suspicious programs or activity.
Consult with experts to make computers less vulnerable to electronic intrusion via keystroke loggers or USB mass storage devices.
Have students clear graphing calculators before tests, where appropriate.
Ban all candy in the classroom.
Do not let students listen to music during tests on MP3 players.
Watch for red laser dots on signs or words on walls.
Backpacks should be left in lockers to thwart contraband.
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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.