Almost one in four middle and high school students surveyed said they didn't think storing notes on a cell phone or texting during an exam constituted cheating. What? Cheating by any other name is still cheating, right?
Kyle Cohen, a senior at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey, tried to explain the conundrum to me this way: "I think just because you are not making the person to person contact (it's easier) to convince yourself that you are not doing something wrong."
Katherine Griffith, another Ridgewood High School senior, said she thinks kids think of it more as "helping each other out as opposed to I'm going to cheat on my test and look at someone else's paper."
According to the new national survey of 2,000 middle and high school students, more than a third of teens with cell phones (35 percent) say they've used a cell phone at least once to cheat during a test and half (52 percent) say they've used the Internet to cheat.
The survey was conducted by the nonpartisan, nonprofit group Common Sense Media, which focuses on the impact of media and entertainment on kids and their families.
"I think the reality has changed," said James Steyer, CEO and Founder of Common Sense Media. "These forms of communication are decidedly less personal and as a result we have to have a new conversation about what we mean about cheating."
While the seniors we talked to at Ridgewood say high-tech cheating isn't rampant at their school, they say they've all seen students cheating by cell phone during exams – whether it is texting for answers or taking photos of tests and showing the pictures to students who haven't yet taken the exam.
Justin Frey, another Ridgewood senior, said during his sophomore year, a student texted him for an answer and he texted the answer back.
"It's just like passing a note during a test, it's the same kind of thing, I guess it's cheating, it's just a different type," he told me.
Peter DeCandia, also of Ridgewood, told me he used instant messaging on the Internet to cheat on homework assignments during middle school.
"I thought it was like cheating but I was in the 8th grade and I didn't really care," he said. "You can do it yourself or you can take the easy way out… it's definitely cheating."
The stakes are definitely high. Last year, in Orange County, Calif., hundreds of students' scores on Advanced Placement tests were wiped away after some students texted during the exam. Concerns about cheating – in part – have led administrators across the country, from Seymour, Ind. to Marion, N.C., to ban cell phones in classrooms.
Ridgewood High School Principal Jack Lorenz doesn't think restricting cell phones is the answer.
"I think it's a little bit naïve to think that that's going to solve the problem," he said. "I think if you have a culture in your school where… there is an expectation that students are honest about their academic achievements, where students promote and the administration promotes it, I think you decrease the opportunities for students to cheat."
The answer, experts and administrators say, is convincing students that high-tech cheating is still cheating. Parents have a role to play but according to the new survey, they appear to be in the dark when it comes to their own children. Seventy-six percent of parents surveyed said cell phone cheating happens at their kid's school but just 3 percent of parents say their child has cheated by cell phone.
"I think a big problem is parents aren't even aware of the extent of the cheating that goes on through the internet and through cell phones," said Melanie Horn, one of the five Ridgewood High School seniors I interviewed for our story.
As parents, we teach our kids right from wrong at the earliest ages. Maybe it's time to add a new lesson plan – right from wrong in the digital age.
for more features.