Don’t Quiz Us During Quarantine

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Now that it is almost June, we have entered the period of the year when under normal circumstances, Advanced Placement (AP) exams have passed; Regents exams lie in the future; and classes wrap up instruction as students trade stress for increasingly T-shirt-dominated wardrobes. These are not, however, normal circumstances, and rather than putting our AP exams behind us and looking forward to the liberated future that is summer, we are forced to look back. This was an AP season like no other, an AP season during which the tests had to be administered entirely online. With this new format came new opportunities for cheating, and with new opportunities for cheating came new protections against academic dishonesty: the College Board created dozens of versions, if not more, of individual tests, held all tests within relatively short 45-minute timespans, and will be putting every submitted exam through plagiarism detection software.

The College Board is not the only entity that has faced challenges regarding maintaining the honesty of online work. Remote learning has posed similar problems for teachers in the smaller arena of the classroom, and teachers have taken various steps to combat academic dishonesty, with limited success. A few approaches to testing, such as requiring that students write up a reflection after completing the test about problems they struggled with, have been moderately successful.

Most approaches, however, have added more stress to the testing process or inadvertently encouraged academic dishonesty. Some teachers have attempted to prevent cheating by giving many difficult test questions in a shorter period of time, likely thinking that if students tried to cheat by googling information or communicating with peers, they would run out of time. Other teachers require students to take tests and quizzes with the camera focused on their hands. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some teachers have made use of the honor code, trusting that students would not access resources while testing, or simply acknowledged that all tests would be open-book. As a result of these measures on both ends of the spectrum, tests have lost educational value. If teachers implement overly intensive measures, students, who feel additional stress due to the strict impositions, do not have adequate time to complete the test to the best of their abilities. And if teachers impose lax or no measures, students likely will not even bother to study for tests and will fail to learn the material.

One method of preventing cheating is eliminating or reducing tests altogether. Cutting back on testing, however, raises an obvious question: how should teachers come up with grades if tests and projects make up the majority of their evaluations? While not all classes will be able to fully or largely replace tests with more open-ended group assignments, all teachers should consider, at least in some way, implementing such projects in place of one or more traditional assessments. Allowing students to engage with the material on their own terms in a way that encourages originality not only helps alleviate concerns of academic dishonesty, but also gives students an opportunity to show teachers they are developing a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Even in STEM subjects, which rely heavily on traditional testing, teachers can assign group projects in which students are assigned a topic to explain via a video or a presentation.

But ultimately, testing will be inevitable, especially for STEM subjects, which cannot assign qualitative work such as essays as easily as English or social studies. In cases in which a test is the only option, instructors should make sure that it is administered reasonably and that appropriate steps are taken (not overzealously) to prevent academic dishonesty. Even during remote learning, teachers should make efforts to ensure their exams are reasonable and fair, such as giving their students a full period to take a test. Instead of implementing more extreme methods to discourage cheating, teachers may opt to give short response instead of multiple choice questions, allowing students to demonstrate their thought process and receive partial credit. Additionally, teachers can make multiple versions of their tests, mixing up the questions for students both in the same period and those in different periods. More generally though, teachers should use assessments as a way to check progress, not calculate grades. If teachers can create low-stakes testing environments, students will be less likely to cheat, knowing their grades won’t solely depend on doing well. Teachers should not be emphasizing exam scores when determining final grades, instead considering factors such as participation, homework, and classwork.

Participation, instead of testing, should determine a significant part of a student’s grade. While it is difficult to measure students’ class contributions during remote learning, participation is more important than ever given the decreasing numerical and educational value of tests. During these trying times, students who make the extra effort to participate, whether that be through a Google Classroom comment or a raised hand on Zoom, should be rewarded, while those who don’t should not be penalized. Teachers should encourage participation by hosting live calls, and even a weekly video call for “office hours” would help engage students. If calls are neither feasible nor conducive to the class, discussion pages on forums like Google Classroom also provide a means to participate and interact with fellow students. Participation is especially important in foreign language classes given that live conversations are the core of learning a language; unfortunately, many language teachers have been assigning mainly written assignments, which students can easily cheat on through online translators.

Above all, teachers should be nurturing an environment where students do not feel that it is impossible to get a good grade. Part of the reason academic dishonesty is such a rampant and evergreen issue at Stuyvesant is because students believe they need to cheat to be successful.

With online learning severely restricting teachers’ access to and communication with students, academic dishonesty will only become more pronounced. We may not be able to change the Stuyvesant pressure cooker culture once we return, but in this pandemic, we can make a supportive academic environment for students. Assigning longer deadlines and accepting late submissions will ease stress, while creative approaches to projects may engage students in new and interesting ways. Attentiveness to e-mails and answering questions not only allow students to catch up if they fall behind or need assistance, but also reassure them that their teachers are present and willing to help no matter the circumstances. While teachers may only “see” their students in online discussion or assignments, the classroom environment still exists and should be allowed to suit these unforeseen circumstances.

What we most want from teachers though is a greater understanding of students’ situations during this pandemic. While Stuyvesant may have an infamous reputation for rigorous academics, which students implicitly agree to when they enroll here, no one signed up for these past few months of online learning. No one signed up to take their tests at home, to log onto Zoom calls for lectures, or to see people’s names on a screen rather than their faces. Students should not be penalized with intensive and stress-inducing exam protocols because of the limitations of remote instruction, especially during a time of such distress and anxiety. When we look back on this semester, we hope to remember our teachers showing greater compassion with their evaluations, to bring light to the darkened memories we will have of these past few months.