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Should students who cheat be failed? Wake may give them a chance to salvage grade.

The Wake County school board is weighing how to handle student cheating in a new policy.
The Wake County school board is weighing how to handle student cheating in a new policy.

Cheating in a Wake County school wouldn’t necessarily lead to a failing grade under a new policy being considered by the school system.

The Wake County school board is scheduled to discuss Tuesday a new Honor Code policy that would encourage schools who lower a student’s grade for cheating to give the student a chance to make up the work to avoid getting a failing mark. It’s part of an approach, school leaders say, to make sure that students who are caught cheating show whether they know the material they’re being graded on.

“If you’re going to ask a student to demonstrate learning, then they should get credit for what they are demonstrating,” Superintendent Cathy Moore told school board members last week. “Part of learning that cheating is not OK is demonstrating the learning in the right way.“

The policy is part of a series of changes that would result in out-of-school suspensions being reserved for serious violations of cheating and plagiarism. Schools would use other forms of action to discipline students for most Honor Code violations, such as taking away school privileges.

It’s also the latest in the long-running debate in Wake and nationally about whether grades should reflect only whether students know the material or whether they can also be lowered because of behavioral issues.

When school administrators proposed banning giving zeros as grades in 2013, it produced a backlash among teachers. That resulted in a compromise where the district said schools were required to develop a plan for grade recovery for students who are at risk of academic failure.

Grade recovery allows students to make up work to get a new grade to try to avoid failing.

The idea of grade recovery popped back up in the first draft of the new Honor Code policy reviewed at last week’s school board policy committee meeting.

The Honor Code policy said that any academic consequence a school imposes for cheating or plagiarism that lowers a student’s grade “must be accompanied by a plan for grade recovery as outlined in Policy 3400 - Evaluation of Student Progress.”

The word “must” sparked a debate among school board members.

“Grade recovery language exists for students who are struggling,” said school board member Heather Scott. “And do we look at a student who is cheating as someone who is struggling, which I say they are. They need the help in some way.

“Their behavior needs to be redirected. That mindset needs to be redirected.”

But school board chairman Jim Martin said that grade recovery shouldn’t be given for severe Honor Code violations, such as for a student who breaks into a school’s computers to look up tests.

”There are very flagrant situations where truly fraudulent behavior has happened and there should be true consequences for that,” Martin said in an interview. “There are times when lasting consequences need to exist.”

Moore, the superintendent, said there are misconceptions that grade recovery means schools can’t give students a zero or have to give full credit. But Drew Cook, assistant superintendent for academics, acknowledged that the policy language was deliberately left vague in how much credit students can recover.

As a compromise, school staff suggested dropping the words “must” and “grade recovery” from the policy. But how substantial the change would be is unclear, because the new wording they proposed says that schools should make sure their punishment is consistent with the policy that requires them to offer grade recovery.

 

The board could take the first of two required votes on the new policy on Tuesday. If adopted, it would go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.

As the board decides what to do next with the policy, board attorney Jonathan Blumberg said members will need to decide where they stand philosophically on the issue of grading.

“The board has to decide whether are you saying that yes there can be an academic consequence but you’re going to have a chance to get back to square one — or not?” Blumberg said.

“Or are you going to say because you did that we’re still going to give you opportunities to demonstrate learning, but we’re not giving you a guarantee that you go back to square one, that there won’t be an academic consequence at the end of the day. I think that’s an important sort of philosophical point you have to resolve.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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