Dear Ms. Smartphone: Cheating on an online exam? I walked into my daughter’s room when she was supposed to be taking a math test in Algebra II. She had her computer open but on her lap, sort of under the table, was her smartphone with notes. I’ve since learned (from other Moms) that kids go to a site called Cymath to get the solutions. She is a sophomore and needs to do well in this class to get into college, so I am torn whether to say something to her teacher. BTW, what makes it worse is that she goes to a religious high school associated with our synagogue. Roslyn, Encino
Dear Roslyn: First, realize that this is a small transgression in the schema of bad. You and your daughter are not going to go to jail like Loughlin Lough or Felicity Huffman, who schemed their way into your nearby school, University of Southern California.
So, begin with an open conversation. Tell your daughter what you saw but ask if you have the details straight. Have her explain what took place from her perspective. Did the teacher say it was an open book test, did her friends goad her to try it, or does she swear she never looked at notes or Cymath? Based on what I’ve read, I’m equally concerned about software that can surveil students when they take a remote exam and report false positives about cheating behaviors. You could insist that next time your daughter take an exams it’s in open seating so you can monitor (the opposite of ‘Go to your Room Now’ as punishment). However, that is not enough.
Instead, try to explore the pressures that lead your daughter to this poor decision. Make sure that she gets academic help and gains the confidence she needs to do well in this subject material. Yes, you might need to ask her teacher for help, enroll her in an outside on-line math program, or seek out a tutor, if you can afford it. Or, do all of the above. You must show your daughter that her integrity, hard-work, and good conduct are what matter.
I am cutting your daughter some slack because I wonder if we all take online short-cuts during this time of Covid. There are adults who sit in their pajama bottoms, teens who are flipping screens and playing a computer game or two, and Zoom meetings where we turn off video so we can be virtually present, but are ‘not.’ In this instance cheating will not get your daughter expelled, but it is a signal that something is amiss and you, as a parent, must look in the window to make adjustments.
If not, she may get into college in two years because she has gotten good enough math grades, but then lack the foundation and skills that are necessary to keep up there and succeed. Kids, exams, and cheating are not a particularly new problem. However, the smartphone adds complexity to the equation (no pun intended) if our students slip through the cracks without learning the material but still give the right answers.