April 9th, 2006


Cheating on Science Tests

Dear Marilyn vos Savant,

Regarding your column in the 9 April 2006 issue of Parade Magazine, included in the Sunday Grand Rapids Press, as one involved in science education and science literacy issues in America, I feel that your answer to Anonymous in Parma OH regarding using the textbook publisher's test answers started off well, but was incomplete.

While I certainly understand the space demands in a publication such as PARADE, there are three aspects to this case which are not addressed:

(1) If these are the answers to the actual tests being used by the school, and the parents know this, then this is cheating. No point in mincing words. Were these answers to previous tests, it would seem to me to be fair game for studying materials. But having the answers to actual tests is cheating, whether you break into the teacher's desk, the school office, or find them elsewhere.

(2) If these are the answers to the actual tests being used by the school, and Anonymous in Parma OH does not immediately report to the teacher and principal of the school that these materials are in the community, then Anonymous in Parma OH is aiding and abetting other students and their parents in cheating, whether they choose to let their child use them or not. When we remain silent about dishonesty, we share in their guilt.

(3) Textbook publishers have been providing teachers with quiz and test banks for years. Once they used to "recommend" that the teachers use them as a starting point for tests, but online grading and online question selections to provide "custom" tests and answer keys is part of the 21st century competitive edge with which the publishers try to shine and outdo each other. They don't sell textbooks anymore, they sell "teaching systems." By making it all "too easy" or in answer to calls for "standards", both good and untrained science teachers alike can cobble up a semester's worth of tests in short order. We have burdened our school teachers with so much paperwork and allowed science courses to be taught by damn near anyone to the point that schools should be ashamed themselves for allowing this situation to happen. Which of course means pointing a finger at the parents and citizens of the communities.

Frankly, I would go further and demand an investigation as to whether last year's "science student of the year" needs to have her award revoked, however I can see where that would lead to trouble. I do have some small sympathy for that student, because it was her parent who pushed her to cheat. But as the Korean genetics scandal shows us, real scientists should not advance in this world through cheating and deception.

It's time to call a cheat a cheat.


Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon
Department of Physics
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5252

e-mail sent 9 April 2006
  • Current Mood
    quixotic quixotic