The new academic code of conduct concerning student cheating in Naperville School District 203 has some School Board members concerned.
The principals of both Naperville North and Central high schools reported Monday to the Board of Education on the implementation of the district’s new Academic Integrity Code. But several School Board members have reservations about the change and were particularly troubled about the code’s preface.
The preface states that if a student used any source or engaged in any student collaboration “you must get specific permission to do so from a teacher.”
The preface also warns students not to interpret silence from the instructor on these matters to be consent from the teacher.
Board member Suzyn Price said that the language left a huge amount of discretion in the hands of individual teachers and was overly broad.
“Depending on how it’s interpreted, it could apply to a lot of kids,” she said.
The new code recognizes three levels of inappropriate conduct: the first being cheating, plagiarizing or gaining unfair advantage on homework or in-class work; the second for the same conduct but on tests and quizzes; the third for the same activities, but also including the sale of inappropriate material, such as answers to a test, cheating on a final exam and changing or falsifying a grade.
Naperville Central Principal Bill Wiesbrook stressed that the previous code was inadequate. It essentially told students that “if you cheat you get a zero,” he said.
Naperville North Principal Kevin Probst argued that specific guidelines were necessary because evidence of cheating that seems clear to parents and teachers might not be as clear for students.
School Board President Jackie Romberg applauded the move toward concrete definitions of cheating, especially in preparing students for the rigors of college standards.
“They don’t talk about this in college,” she said. “You just have to know it.”
But other board members were clearly uneasy with what they considered overly broad or outdated definitions of cheating.
School Board member Mike Jaensch pointed out that searching for material online was commonplace among modern students.
“What’s the difference between Googling (the information) or looking it up on an index,” he asked.
Another concern raised was the possibility of a teacher bearing a grudge against a particular student and interpreting the definitions of the new standards whichever way could prove dishonesty.
Probst said that no one has come forth so far to point to a problem with a teacher and didn’t think that teachers were likely to use the new definitions to produce a “gotcha” moment.
Probst gave the example of an English assignment on sentence structure in which the point was to get the student to develop critical thinking skills.
“I want you to problem solve without finding the answer (on the Internet),” he said was the process the district was trying to encourage.
But board members still had doubts.
“How this (the code) is interpreted in the future is not up to you,” Price said.
Price also noted that because there has not yet been complaints about the new rules wasn’t a guarantee that no problems existed.
Board member Donna Wandke pointed out that the district’s mission included fostering collaborative learning, and said that the preface’s reference to collaborative learning might not be the best way to deal with the issue.
“We need to think about how a student probably needs a better explanation,” she said.
The new code has been in place for only a few weeks, and both principals sought to reassure board members that there will be an ongoing and open dialogue on the issue.