A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Question About Grades and Plagiarism

So I have a question: What policy does your school district have regarding plagiarism and grades? According to Ken O'Connor, students grades should not be impacted by cheating. Or by failure to meet deadlines, either, apparently, since in the "real world" (imagine fingers making little quotation marks as the presenter is saying it) everyone can negotiate deadlines (and if this is so, can I renegotiate the end of my contracted school year to yesterday?)

Let me know what you think.

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At 4/22/09, 6:56 PM, Blogger Fred said...

I'm not too sure what the district policy is; I should probably know.

I give the person a zero if it's on a test, and if someone gives another person their homework to copy and I catch it, they both get a zero on the assignment.

I don't accept late work. Period. No excuses.

At 4/22/09, 7:04 PM, Blogger Mister Teacher said...

I'm the same way, Fred, yet this O'Connor guy is not the first time I've seen the concept being pushed of not affecting the grade.

What I'm wondering is, if the kid cheats on one test, what's to stop him/her from cheating on the NEW test that you have to give? And teachers are required to develop a brand new test every time someone cheats??

At 4/22/09, 8:33 PM, Blogger Kim Hughey said...

When I was a junior in high school, I let another student copy my lab report in Honors Chemistry. Lab reports in this class were major test grades. The teacher found us out and gave us both zeros. It caused me to receive my first and only C of my high school career and it changed my life. I never did anything so foolish again and I am happy the teacher helped me learn the seriousness of my actions.

I don't agree with the new philosophy of having cheating not affect your grade.

At 4/22/09, 8:40 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

O'Connor's theory is that grades shouldn't be about behavior, but about "learning" (click the link and see for ourself. Really. If your hair isn't standing on end by the end of his fifteen fixes, you aren't awake).

If behaviors shouldn't show up in grades, fine. Then don't put students in my room who are there solely for socialization-- which would be.... a behavior.

And I think especially in today's society, learning not to cheat and lie is important. At the very least.

At 4/22/09, 10:41 PM, Blogger Valerie Roberson said...

Our student handboook says students are subject to disciplinary and grade consequences. (Gah, what a clumsy phrase! But you know what I mean)
It leaves the consequences up to the teacher. That being said I did get called into a meeting earlier this year where a parent tore me up one side and down the other for giving a zero for cheating. Her excuse? It was "just a review."
What a world we teach in.

At 4/22/09, 11:38 PM, Anonymous Kari said...

Did anyone notice a problem with slide 26? Anyone? That about sums up my feeling about the whole thing.

Although I am amused about one thing in particular--it says to only include summative assessments in the grade, not formative assessments or practice. Well, by this measure, students can't get homework grades--all grades should be based on class assessments, i.e. tests, essays, projects, etc. HA!! When I taught pre-AP English, their grade was 60% tests/essays/projects and 40% homework/reading quizzes, which worked really well for that particular group of kids.

However, for my college-prep (which was everyone who wasn't honors, as we did away with a basic/remedial level of English), I went with a straight point value, with homework being worth a lot more points than tests. Why? They needed their homework grades to pull up their abysmal test grades... and also, if I didn't count the HW as points, they just flat out wouldn't do it, and they'd flunk the tests anyway.

Obviously the person who wrote this hasn't been in a real classroom in eons. Holy cow.

At 4/23/09, 8:00 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Yeah, slide 26's math error is just part of the fun--what amuses (which a nice way of saying makes me want to pull tufts of hair from my head) me most about the whole thing is that the person who presented this material to me cheerfully admitted that he wasn't very good at math. No, really?

And two of the people in our district who are MOST in favor of this approach have kids of their own (who are in our district) who don't do homework, and they would love to see a system where homework doesn't count. One of them has even demanded this system be implemented for his child already. Yay, nepotism!

Here's the point: education requires behavioral changes AS THE VERY ESSENCE of learning.

At 4/23/09, 8:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I hope my district never pays this guy to present to us. Let's see if we can make the most boring and repetitive ppt out there. Not to mention some of the ideas? So don't count zeros or missing assignments in the grade? Wow, so if I do nothing at all I make an A. Let me in that class please?

At 4/23/09, 9:10 AM, Blogger Fat Momma said...

Our district's "official" policy is that those who are caught cheating should receive a zero on that assignment, regardless of whether is it a test or not. But our administration will not support you the teacher if you follow district policy, especially if they are caught cheating on a test. Test's count for 60% of a student's average and a zero on even one of those assignments will cause the student to fail that grading period. The administration is not willing to go to bat when they know parents will complain about a single assignment causing their students to fail.

At 4/23/09, 11:02 AM, Blogger Mamacita (The REAL one) said...

We get what we earn. We earn by DOING something. Students EARN their grades by what they DO. Cheaters earn zeroes.

Cheaters are a kind of beginner criminal. To overlook cheating is to cheat all the good, decent, hardworking students who are EARNING their grades.

An adult who would advocate leniency for cheaters? Himself/herself a kind of cheater. I find this appalling.

At 4/23/09, 1:52 PM, Blogger Ms Characterized said...

School policy is: zero on the assignment, U in citizenship for next marking period (affects their athletic, & potential honors society eligibility), a Saturday detention. I also reduce their integrity grade by half (but that's my classroom policy). I might consider an equivalent assignment done under my supervision just to test skills mastery, but I'm not sure if I would enter it into the gradebook.

At 4/23/09, 2:34 PM, Blogger Lauren said...

I teach at a private college prep school and I am ashamed to say that like the parent in Val's comment, my Director of Studies (academic dean) didn't want to punish a kid because the assignment he plagiarized was "just" a (pretty point-rich) homework assignment. He said, "Its not like he cheated on a test." I made a big deal out of it and now have a reputation for being difficult and a boat-rocker. If we don't model and teach character, integrity and accountability...who will our students learn it from?

At 4/23/09, 4:36 PM, Blogger Lightly Seasoned said...

I wrote the plagiarism policy for my building: zero on the assignment. If it happens a second time, removal from the class with a grade of F.

Regular cheating a zero and detention.

I don't give much weight to formative assessments -- 10% of their overall grade. I figure it shows up in the summative. If they're not passing the summatives, then the formatives weren't of much value, were they?

I actually tell the kid they can skip some assignments; if they get 100% on the summative, I'll give them credit anyway. If they miss anything, then they didn't know it well enough to skip and they take the 0. I find it makes them study harder when they miss the homework assignment, which is pretty much my goal.

At 4/23/09, 6:30 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

I cannot abide plagiarism and cheating, and will not give credit when I catch kids. I also have little respect for those of my colleagues who are snowed by obvious plagiarism.

However, in NYC there's kind of an imperative to pass kids by any means necessary. I once abided a principal who overruled me when I identified obvious plagiarism on a state exam. The second time it happened, I wondered aloud what would happen if someone from the state found out.

They got the message, and so did the kid, whose paper was invalidated. And honestly, were it my kid, I'd want her teachers to do the same.

At 4/23/09, 7:36 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, you are all making me feel better. I thought I was nuts for a second there (still might be true, but at least I'm not the only person confused over this issue).

So what do you think about the idea of not including behavior in grades?

At 4/24/09, 10:03 AM, Blogger allirab@earthlink.net said...

I teach ESL, and participation is almost half the grade.

You cannot learn language if you do not also learn a certain set of attitudes and yes, BEHAVIORS: resilience, persistence, risk-taking, learning from your mistakes, active listening and energetic group participation.

If you are not prepared for class, if you are inattentive, if you never try, if you disrupt the learning of other students - you lose points.

I would re-draw his slide 17, since if you do not acquire those attitudes/learning skills, you do not have the "product" or 'achievement" of true language acquisition. In second language acquisition, process is almost inseperable from product.

And as a middle school teacher, I strongly believe that teaching good work habits, transferable learning skills, personal responsibility, and intellectual integrity are as important (or more important!) than anything in our curriculum.

I also deduct a portion of the possible grade every day an assignment is late, and I will not accept plagiarism [although I spend a lot of time with my ELLs to help them learn to rephrase and to recognize plagiarism.

NYC Educator, you also teach ESL - do you include participation in the grade?

And yes, this is quite possibly the most boring Power Point I've ever seen, enlivened only by his math error....

At 4/24/09, 5:15 PM, Blogger Ms Characterized said...

I have a set of points called 'behavior' that is five percent of the grade. They start with 200 points. So a person turns in a late homework assignment, instead of takking half of the points of the assignment, I take half the value of the points off of the behavior grade. Cheating could result in the entire grade being zeroed out, taking 5% off the top of whatever they earned.

I try to have my score reflect skills mastery, but I'm not ignorant of how behavior influences grades. So far, the system seems to be working OK, but I haven't had a cheater yet this year -- or I haven't caught anyone.

At 4/24/09, 5:16 PM, Blogger Ms Characterized said...

Oof. "Taking." Sorry.

At 4/24/09, 5:24 PM, Blogger teachergirl said...

Thank you all. If we don't teach them ethics, we don't teach them anything. Cheating is cheating no matter where it occurs.

At 4/24/09, 6:40 PM, Anonymous Jeff Reed said...

Wow. I just wrote a column about this issue...but I have a VERY different take.




At 4/24/09, 10:35 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Yep. I was once told by a parent that I had actually ENCOURAGED her son to cheat by telling him that I would take the paper he didn't turn in no later than 3. Somehow, that then FORCED him to go to the library and copy something off of SparkNotes. It wasn't Widdow Pweshus's fault at all. It was mine.

We've had this presentation, too. But getting back to this, the administrator who presented Mr. O'Connor's system to us as the Latest Greatest Hope of Education assured us that principals would give consequences for plagiarism. Right. Because they're already so amazingly consistent and willing to enforce the consequences of the rules they've already got.

At 4/25/09, 7:20 AM, Blogger Teacha said...

It sounds like Mr. O'Conner is crazy. Cheating IS the same thing as STEALING. If I STEAL at my job, I lose it. In school, shouldn't we be teaching them real life lessons. And what happens when they get to college and the deadlines are real AND plagiarism gets the child kicked out. This is just nuts. Experts like this drive me nut. .. and How long has it been sense he's been in a classroom?

At 4/25/09, 7:58 AM, Blogger Lightly Seasoned said...

I try to keep my grades as based on skills as I can, but it is impossible to tease behavior out of the equation entirely. Studying is a behavior. I never do participation grades, etc. I have no penalties for late work for my underclassmen. Half of them have IEP extended time, and the rest either do it for the due date window (I give them a 3-day window), or just aren't going to anyway. For my APES, no late work, end of story.

I know the argument for no zeros, but I don't buy it. I can't assess a skill not presented.

Our principals are all about punting a much responsibility for behavior to us as possible. I have our guys fairly well trained that when I refer a kid, I also specify the punishment I think will fit.

At 4/26/09, 1:43 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Supposedly, Mr. O'Connor's system will lead to real "standards-based" grading. Of course, how anyone thinks kids are going to reach any standard if they don't do the reinforcement and the practice is beyond me.....

At 4/29/09, 1:50 AM, Blogger Hugh O'Donnell said...

Ms. Cornelius,

A couple of things come to mind...

First, a quotation that I will adapt to the conversation above: "a teacher convinced against his/her will, is of the same opinion still."

What I'm getting at here is opening your mind to a conversation that has the potential to give a lot of kids hope. What's the harm in suspending judgment until you understand all the elements of the conversation?

Second, after reading all of the different methods your respondents use to "grade" their students, I'm flabbergasted that anyone could make any sense at all about the meaning of any particular teacher's grade on a report card without a Rosetta Stone keyed to that particular teacher.

"Sound Grading Practices," or standards-based grading, or "grading for learning," aspires to make sense out of grading by helping teachers make their grades consistent, accurate, meaningful, and supportive of student achievement (yes, from Ken O'Connor). How can one symbol (A,B,or C) convey useful meaning for both product and process, while accommodating the idiosyncratic "rules" of hundreds of different teachers?

What we have in our profession is grading anarchy supported and perpetuated by supposed professionals. We even have math teachers who are ignorant of the statistics axiom that outliers render mean averages meaningless (I'm talking about zeros in a percentage grading system). You could use the median average to eliminate that hassle. It's a more robust measure of central tendency in that zeros don't affect it enough to render it meaningless.

Moreover, I thought we were all devoted to helping all kids succeed, but apparently many of us are devoted to the continuation of our own power trips instead.

My last thought here conveys a sadness that some of your respondents chose to make personally disparaging remarks about Ken O'Connor.

Ken is a world-class educator who has earned the respect of other top flight educators all over the world. I have been his student since 2000, and I have spoken at some of the same conferences that he has. You don't get that kind of respect (I've seen it up close) without having earned it. Have you or his critics here earned world-wide credibility?

I'm a retired social studies teacher (still holding current certification) who currently serves on the Hillsboro Schools (Oregon) Board of Directors, and I've got to say that I'm ashamed that folks who call themselves teachers would stoop to the name-calling and fallacious reasoning that I've seen in this thread.

You don't all have to agree with Ken, but how about showing a little professionalism?

At 4/29/09, 5:49 AM, Blogger Teacha said...

Hugh, you're right. I'm a name caller. And I'll admit it when I've done it. I shouldn't have said it that way. . . I should have said Ken's policy concerning cheating is crazy. I'm sure he's quite brilliant. But his real world and my real world are not the same. Let me explain . ..

I have issues with standards based grading. I'm sure I've said it before: I'm on the boat that grades should REFLECT what the students knows; what skills the kids can perform. However, plagiarism is a serious offense. I KNOW people who've been kicked out of college for it. Going before the board at a University is a serious thing and its REALLY difficult to defend yourself . . . unless your parents have donated SERIOUS CHANGE to that school, you are out! We can't kick kids out of public school. But the penalty for cheating/plagiarism should be just as serious. It's STEALING. At my school, they get a 90 day for stealing from a teacher.

At my school, when I'm confronted with plagiarism and I've taken it to the Academic AP. She always says call the parent and offer the student the opportunity to redo at a one letter grade lower. It's frustrating b/c to me the penalty does not fit the crime. It's NOT real world. Real world has a student pay hefty price. And I think our students don't understand that under the standards based grading system.

I also wanted to comment, Hugh, that our school will be adopting this grading policy pretty soon. Honestly, I don't think it'll stick around very long. B/c the policy says that homework IS NOT to be graded. If homework is not to be graded there is NO incentive to do it. And let me tell you, the assessments scores WILL change! Especially, in math.

At 4/29/09, 6:30 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, Hugh, I think the term "power trip" is certainly a bit of name-calling as well.

My problem with the system outlined in your comments is that "helping students succeed" is being used to justify "allowing students to cheat and repeatedly fail to meet deadlines." Both of these admitted "behaviors" have some serious consequences in the "real world," although not as much as they used to. I personally do not think that that trend is a good thing nor is it one to which we should meekly surrender.

If expecting students not to cheat THEMSELVES of a quality education (which would be MY definition of success, Hugh) through plagiarism is "power-tripping," then you and I have some basic philosophical differences that will probably never be resolved.

Now, while I do not have a degree in statistics, let's just perform a thought-experiment: Let's say that a pharmaceutical company is testing a new drug. In reporting their testing, they omit all data from patients for whom the treatment was not effective. This would then skew the results, regardless of whether you call them "outliers" or not. That certainly would lead to data that was unreliable.

In our situation in the classroom, is it only zeroes that we should drop? Perhaps only grades under twenty percentage points? Fifty? Sixty? All subjective judgments that then skew the evaluations we make based on the data we receive.

But hey, there are, in this world, "lies, damned lies, and statistics" (a quote variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and Mark Twain), And MY statistics professor reinforced that one continually. Anyone who has lived through the past half of this century should remember that.

In grading, a refusal to complete an assigned task is not an anomaly (aka "outlier"). It may very well be indicative of an...(wait for it) inability to meet a standard, or even a refusal to meet same.

And sure, that is a behavior, but one of the bones I have to pick with this whole presentation is that a REAL education is ALL ABOUT CHANGING BEHAVIOR.

As much as some would like to make education simply a objective process, in which a student can be simply manipulated like a gear or a piece of machinery, it is not. To get the most out of an education, students must participate in that process. And in evaluating their success, consideration of a refusal or failure to do the same is certainly appropriate.

Evaluating students based on their completion of learning tasks is not simply a sign that we are power-tripping old curmudgeons who hate children, but a sign that we seek to inculcate behaviors that will enable students to be independent, productive scholars and citizens.

At 4/29/09, 8:30 PM, Blogger Hugh O'Donnell said...

Ms. Cornelius, neither I nor Mr. O'Connor believe plagiarism or cheating is acceptable. Based on the above discussion, the slide that mentions these behaviors seems to have been taken out of the context of a more comprehensive discussion of classroom assessment and grading.

Certainly there should be consequences for these proscribed behaviors. If we are intent on using assessments as teaching tools (Black & William, "Inside the Black Box"), we need to separate our academic evaluations from our behavioral evaluations (and the accompanying consequences) so that we are not flying blind in the blizzard of data.

But before we get side-tracked into doing the dozens (Horshack would know about that), maybe I need to back up and get some context.

When and how did you and your staff become exposed to "grading for learning"?

Standards-based grading is not as radical as it may seem after we find common ground. If you had the entire "15 Fixes for Broken Grades" dropped on you out of the blue, well, I'd be upset too.

Would you give me a little background, please?

At 4/30/09, 5:16 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Sure, Hugh. Can you also let me know if you now or if you have ever had a financial stake in the dissemination and/or adoption of these type of grading systems? Or are you currently a classroom educator who is operating under the grading and classroom policies you advocate?

I will create a new post so that everyone can get in on the discussion and realize it is still ongoing.


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