Archive for Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Tonganoxie takes tough stand on plagiarism

School officials: All districts can learn from incident in nearby Piper High School

February 27, 2002

Policies on plagiarism are alive and well at Tonganoxie High School.

"The kids receive zeroes for cheating on any assignment that's the action," said Tonganoxie High School principal Mike Bogart.

And, when a student has been caught cheating more than once, punishment ranges from contacting the parents, to assigning detentions and suspensions.

Earlier this month, the Piper school district, which is 15 miles northeast of Tonganoxie, received nationwide attention after the school board told a teacher to give less weight to a project in which 28 students had cheated by plagiarizing.

Rather than submit to the school board's ruling, the Piper teacher resigned, saying the board had destroyed her credibility with the students.

Tonganoxie school superintendent Richard Erickson said while he sympathizes with those involved in the dispute, other districts stand to learn from this.

"It sends an alert to all of us to make sure we have policies and procedures in place," Erickson said.

Bogart agreed.

"I've had a lot of discussions with principals from other schools," Bogart said. "We can't support what the Piper board did, but they had a choice either stick by the rule and enforce it strictly or change the rules in mid-course. Both choices were very tough and I think they probably made the easiest choice, but it will have some long-lasting effects there."

Bogart said the school's most effective means of dealing with cheating is to prevent it by measuring student performance frequently so that there is not what he termed "an overburden of emphasis placed on any one grade."

Bogart used research papers as an example.
"Every step in the process receives a score, the bibliography, the outline, the rough draft and final copies, all receive a score," Bogart said. "The cumulative effect is they are measured all the way in their performance and the weight of the grade is not measured on that one final project."
While the copying of assignments is a concern, Bogart said plagiarism, especially on research papers, is of much greater concern.
"The writing is hard it's hard for good writers, and of course these youngsters see it as a real chore, so the temptation is there."
Bogart said even though the faculty and administration attempt to monitor students' work for copying assignments and plagiarizing, it still happens.
"Plagiarism isn't localized in Piper, Kansas, that's for sure," Bogart said.
Jean Willson is in her ninth year of teaching sophomore and junior honors English at Tonganoxie High School. Each year she warns her students not to plagiarize.
"I've talked to them about it," Willson said. "I do think they realize how serious it is."
But even so, once in a while, students don't heed her admonitions and they go ahead and plagiarize.
"There's been a couple of times that we have run across it," Willson said. "I've given them an F on that one assignment."
In each instance, the students had copied material from a book. And, Willson said, she heard no comments from parents, one way or the other.
The problem with the Piper incident, she said, was the weight of the grade.
"I think that was probably the heaviest factor in Piper that it was 50 percent of their grade."
Willson said if her students use the Internet for research they are required to print out the information and attach it to their papers.
If they take their information from books, they are not allowed to make photocopies of the pages.
Instead they have to write down their notes.
Overall, she said, she has faith in her students.
"I really trust our kids," Willson said. "I think they know when they're doing right or wrong."
Tonganoxie school board president Bob DeHoff has been reading about the cheating incident in Piper.
"All I can say for the Piper situation is not everybody knows the details," DeHoff said. "There is information that won't come out because it was discussed in executive session because of privacy and confidentiality rules."
DeHoff said he did not think the Piper school board had violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act by discussing the circumstances in executive session.
However, the Wyandotte County attorney is investigating whether the board took a vote during the closed-door session, which would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
School board member Rick Lamb agreed that some of the details have not been made public.
"We just don't know everything about all the details that happened there," Lamb said. "I'm sure there were discussions that went on behind the scene that we just don't know."
But, overall, Lamb said, two things went wrong in Piper.
First, he said, the students plagiarized.
"Plagiarism is wrong and we need to teach people that it is wrong and hold them accountable."
And second, the school board's action was questionable.
"The board did not back their staff," Lamb said. "That is a real bad situation. For the most part, school boards need to back their administration, staff and teachers."
The board's action weakened the teacher's authority, he said.
"What really alarms me is the attitude that was reported that the students had toward the teacher after it was all over," Lamb said. "It was reported that they said, 'We don't have to listen to you.'"
The end result, Lamb said, is that students didn't respect the teacher as they should have.
"That's probably why she resigned," he said. "And I don't blame her."

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