Dishonest habits are on the rise in schools according to a new national study, and local educators say the temptation to cheat may be particularly strong for Georgia students concerned about obtaining state college scholarships.
A survey of 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected public, private and private religious high schools nationwide found 30 percent of students have stolen from a store and 64 percent have cheated on a test in the past year.
The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed students and promised them anonymity. The large-scale survey suggested Americans are too apathetic about ethical standards.
The survey reported cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year and 38 percent did so two or more times, up from 60 percent and 35 percent in a 2006 survey. In addition, 36 percent of students admitted to using the Internet to plagiarize an assignment compared to 33 percent in 2004.
Despite such responses, 93 percent of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent affirmed that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."
Carol Cox, principal of North Georgia Christian School in Gainesville, said only a handful of students are sent to her office each year for cheating or plagiarism. She said perhaps due to the school’s religious foundation, cheating is not a rampant problem at the school, but high school students who cheat frequent her office more than younger students.
"Their HOPE Scholarship stands in the balance, and I think that’s not just for our students, but for all students across the state of Georgia," Cox said. "I think certainly for high school students the HOPE Scholarship has put more pressure on them and their grades. It’s just one more reason students might be tempted to cheat."
To earn the state’s HOPE Scholarship that covers full tuition at public colleges and universities, students must graduate from high school with at least a B average.
Cox said consequences for cheating at North Georgia Christian range from a zero on the assignment up to or including suspension. She said three high school students out of 75 at the school were reprimanded for cheating or plagiarism last year.
Cindy Blakley, director of secondary education for Hall County schools, said cheating and plagiarism likely is more of a problem than system educators are able to detect.
"I think there are probably more students cheating on an exam than we know about," she said.
And Blakley said what’s surprising is that it’s often the high-achieving students who care most about their grades who feel compelled to cheat.
"Sometimes because they want so much to be No. 1, they do whatever they can to be No. 1," she said.
While Blakley did not have data on cheating statistics in Hall County schools, she did say consequences for cheating could include a zero grade for the assignment, a substitute assignment, detention or parent conference as well as in-school suspension.
Blakley said she believes it’s important parents and teachers stress to students they do their best in school, but their best may not always be a 100.
"It may be a 93 or a 91," she said. "It’s important that a student’s best is accepted, whatever that may be."
The results of the study have some questioning where the morals of this generation of students may take the United States in the future.
Cox said she thinks the lines of morality for students nationally are certainly grayer these days.
"That’s where we believe the biblical standards come in, and then there’s one standard of what is right and wrong," she said.
Blakley said school leaders are trying to carry out the system’s motto of "Character, Competency and Rigor for all" to benefit individual students as well as the community.
"The most successful students and the ones who are most valuable to our community are the ones who dig in their heels and are willing to do the work," she said. "I think that’s why we have to talk about it with parents, teachers and students. I think we’ll find the most success in families and schools working together."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.