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PUETT, R. A. (1999). Cheating: What Do Elementary School Children Think?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 2. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 9, 2023 .

Cheating: What Do Elementary School Children Think?
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
According to the literature, cheating has become a serious problem among American`s attending school in today`s society. It is most prevalent at the collegiate level. However, there have been reports of cheating incidents occurring at the high school level. Since it is such a serious problem at the collegiate level, it may be important to determine the age at which children begin to recognize what cheating is and perhaps the age at which children begin cheating themselves. In this study, first through sixth grade students attending two schools of different socioeconomic status participated. The students listened to a survey consisting of six scenarios dealing with different aspects of cheating and dishonesty. They were asked to raise their hands in response to yes, if they thought the behavior was okay, or no, if they thought the behavior was not okay. From the data collected, there were distinct differences between children`s responses at each elementary school and grade level. Studying the views of elementary school children on such a serious issue as cheating could be beneficial in looking at ways to prevent and address this problem early in a child`s life.

Cheating has become one of the major problems in education today. Studies have shown that cheating in college is epidemic, and some analysts of this problem estimate that fifty percent of college students may engage in such behavior (Baird, 1980; Haines, Diekhoff, LaBeff, & Clark, 1986). In spite of knowing that cheating is wrong, most students report that they have cheated at some time during their high school or college careers (eg. Baird, 1980; Davis, Grover, Becker, & McGregor, 1992). According to Davis, Grover, Becker, & McGregor (1992), most students say that it is wrong to cheat. The percentage of students answering yes to the question "Is it wrong to cheat?" has never been below 90%. This contrasts sharply with the mean percentage of students who report having cheated in either high school or college or both (76%). Davis, Grover, Becker, & McGregor (1992) indicated that between 40% and 60% of their college respondents reported cheating on at least one examination. Davis & Ludvigson (1995) reported more than 70% of respondents in each sample reported cheating in high school. Self-reports in college fell within the 40% to 60% range. More than 80% of the students who reported cheating at least once in high school reported cheating on several occasions during high school. Virtually all (98.64%) students who reported cheating on several occasions in college had also cheated on several occasions in high school. Zastro (1972) provided evidence of a 40% incidence of cheating among graduate students. To this date, most studies have involved American college students and have been marked by questions about faculty views on cheating, the personality characteristics of cheaters, situational factors in cheating, and programs to increase academic integrity (Aaron, 1992). Very little attention has been given to younger students. However, in a study by Schab (1969), approximately 24% of the girls and 20% of the boys admitted that they first began cheating in the first grade, 17% of the girls and 15% of the boys began cheating in the eighth grade, and 13% of the girls and 9% of the boys began cheating in the seventh grade. It would seem, then, that cheating might possibly begin at a young age. If so, as students get older they may be more likely to carry cheating over to high school and college levels. Research has shown that cheating is more prevalent among high school and college students. However, Evans, Craig, and Mietzel (1993) have indicated that concern about academic cheating has been persistently expressed in scholarly and mass media for several decades. Accounts of rampant cheating in elite secondary schools and elementary schools rates as outstanding have recently surfaced, with indications that some teachers and administrators may themselves be implicated in dishonest practices. It is possible that teachers and administrators who practice dishonest behavior might have an effect on student`s decisions to cheat. Smith (1998) conducted a study concerning the age at which elementary school children begin cheating and what they consider cheating to be. The participants consisted of first through sixth grade students. The results of this study showed a clear difference that first grade students were less likely to see certain behaviors as cheating when compared to fourth and fifth grade students. Fifteen percent of first graders replied that cheating and lying behaviors were okay. This indicates that academic dishonesty should be addressed during these early year`s of childhood and reinforced throughout a child`s entire academic career.Cheating in the classroom includes many behaviors: using crib notes on an exam, copying answers from another students` paper, letting others copy a homework paper, plagiarizing, and ghostwriting, to name just a few (Bushway & Nash, 1977). In Baird`s (1980) study, competition for grades, insufficient study time, large workload, instructor pressure, graduate school or job pressure, parent pressure, and influence of friends were among the reasons students gave for cheating. Competition for grades was the most common response. Another study involving reasons for cheating indicated several factors that are important determinants of cheating. These factors include pressure for good grades, student stress, ineffective deterrents, condoning teachers, and a lack of academic integrity (Davis, Grover, Becker, & McGregor, 1992). Pressure for good grades was the most common response in this study. Both of these studies indicate that students place great emphasis on receiving good grades. In a study by Levine (1995), a survey of top high school juniors and seniors was conducted for Who`s Who Among American High School Students. Seventy-eight percent of the students surveyed admitted to cheating, and eighty-nine percent said that it is common at their schools. The same students felt that cheating was prevalent because of the emphasis on good grades, because it is easy, and because schools are often reluctant to punish students.With cheating rates as high as 75% to 87% (Baird, 1980) and detection rates as low as 1.3% (Haines, Diekhoff, LaBeff, & Clark (1986), academic dishonesty is reinforced, not punished. Even when cheating is detected, swift and appropriate punishment may not follow (Davis, Grover, Becker, & McGregor, 1992). It seems that detection and punishment might be an important factor in whether students choose to cheat. If detection rates are low and the appropriate punishment is not likely, then more students might turn to cheating as the easy way to get better grades. The purpose of this study was to examine the socioeconomic status of two elementary schools to see if there was a difference between children`s views of cheating . This study also examined the differences between each grade level. This could be beneficial in looking at ways to prevent cheating behavior while children are at a young age.


The participants were first through six grade students from two schools in the St. Joseph, Missouri Public School District. The two schools that took part in this study were Neely Accelerated School and Coleman Accelerated School. Overall, there were 631 participants: 87 first graders, 121 second graders, 105 third graders, 112 fourth graders, 97 fifth graders, and 109 sixth graders. Statistics from student data determining the socioeconomic status of each school came from the St. Joseph Public School District and were based on the average percentage of free/reduced lunches. Neely Accelerated School is lower in socioeconomic status (87%) as compared to Coleman Accelerated School (9%).

A survey from a previous study on academic cheating involving elementary school children was modified and used to collect data. It contained six simple age-appropriate scenarios dealing with honesty, cheating, stealing, and not getting caught (See Appendix).

A survey, along with a data sheet for recording responses, was distributed to all first through sixth grade teachers at each school. Each teacher was instructed to read each item on the survey and the children were asked to respond by raising their hand, indicating yes if the behavior was okay or no if the behavior was not okay, in response to each question being asked. The students were asked each question while their heads were down on their desks so no other students could see their responses. Data were collected by counting the number of hands held up in response to each question and recording the number of responses on a data sheet.

A 6x2 ANOVA was calculated comparing the two schools, six grade levels, and the percentage of children who responded that the behavior was okay. A significant main effect between schools was found (F(1,151)= 3.97, p= .048). Children who attended the lower socioeconomic school were more likely to view the cheating behaviors as being okay. Fewer children attending the higher socioeconomic status school viewed the cheating behaviors as being okay. A significant main effect between grades was also found (F(5,151)= 3.51, p= .005). As children got older, they were less likely to view the cheating behaviors as okay, with the exception of second graders, whose overall percentage was higher than any other grade at both schools. There was no interaction effect between school and grade (F(5,151)= 1.25, p= .27). The particular school that children attended did not depend on the grade level they were in. Results can be seen in Figure 1.

The purpose of this study was to examine and compare the socioeconomic status of two elementary schools to see if there was a difference between first through sixth graders biers of cheating. Results showed a main effect for school and grade. Children, who attended Neely, the lower socioeconomic status school were more likely to view the cheating scenarios as being okay. As children got older, they were less likely to view them as being okay. However, more children in the second grade viewed the cheating scenarios as being okay as opposed to children in other grades (See Figure 1). It does seem that most students in third through sixth grade have a clear indication of what cheating is and do not view it as being okay. Most literature on academic cheating has dealt with high school and college students, indicating that cheating is more prevalent among students at those levels. However, when asked, both high school and college students have admitted to cheating in elementary school (Schab, 1969). Data in this study indicate that elementary school children view certain cheating behaviors as being okay. This may be why many high school and college students report cheating as early as first grade. There are limitations to this study. Although the sample size was large, the sample consisted of more students attending the higher socioeconomic status school. Another limitation is possible teacher expectancy bias. The procedure did not involve me going into each classroom and collecting the data. Having each classroom teacher collect data could have had an impact on the results. Children may have been reluctant to answer one way or another since the questions were coming directly from their teacher. Children could have answered in accordance to what they thought the teacher expected of them. This study has external validity. A similar study was conducted dealing with cheating behaviors and the age at which children recognize behaviors as cheating (Smith, 1998). Results from this study are consistent with the results of the previous study in regards to children recognizing cheating behaviors and that they are not okay as they progress through third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. If this study were conducted at other elementary schools using first through sixth grade students, the results would likely be similar. This study is a product of previous research. I took a study and generated further research from it. It would be beneficial to study the cognition`s and attributions of elementary students in regards to cheating. A study examining cooperative learning at the elementary school level would also be useful. Since there is little literature concerning elementary students views on cheating, further research on childhood perceptions of academic cheating would be beneficial.

Baird, J.S., Jr. (1980). Current trends in college cheating. Psychology in the Schools, 17, 515-522.Davis, S.F., Grover, C.A., Becker, A.H., & McGregor, L.N. (1992). Academic dishonesty: Prevalence, determinants, techniques, and punishments. Teaching of Psychology, 33, 39-42.Davis, S.F., & Ludvigson, W.H., (1995). Additional data on academic dishonesty and a proposal for remediation. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 119-121.Evans, E.D., Craig, D., & Mietzel, G. (1993). Adolescents` cognitions and attributions for academic children: A cross-national study. Journal of Psychology, 127, 585-602.Haines, V.J., Diekhoff, G.M., LaBeff, E.E., & Clark, R.E. (1986). College cheating: Immaturity, lack of commitment, and the neutralizing attitude. Research in Higher Education, 25, 342-354.Levine, D. (1995). Cheating in our schools: A national scandal. Reader`s Digest, 147, 65-70.Missouri Western State College. (1998, February). Smith, S. L. At what age do children start cheating? Clearinghouse.Schab, F. (1969). Cheating in high school: Differences between the sexes. Journal of the National Association of Women Deans and Counselors, 33, 39-42.

1. We are playing Monopoly and I roll a 2 with the dice. If I move there then I land on someone`s property. If I land there, I have to pay somebody money. Is it okay if I just go ahead one more space?

2. You are asked to draw a picture in Art class. The teacher wants you to draw a picture of a cat but you are not very good at it. You ask your friend to draw it for you. The art teacher thinks you drew the picture and gives you a good grade. Is that okay?

3. You are out on the playground and see a toy like a hot wheel, beanie baby, or a pair of sunglasses that someone left outside. No one is going to see you pick up this toy, so you get it and take it home with you. Is that okay?

4. Your mom and dad see that you have a new toy and they know they didn`t buy it for you. They ask you where you got it. You tell them a friend gave it to you. You don`t tell them you found it on the way home and just picked it up. Is that okay?

5. You are taking a test in spelling. You don`t know how to spell a word. The person sitting next to you has the answer. The teacher is not looking at you so you look at the other person`s paper and write the answer. Is that okay?

6. A teacher sees you talking in class and sends you to the principal`s office. You tell the principal that you weren`t talking and that you were just listening, but actually you were talking. Is that okay?

Figure 1

Submitted 5/4/99 1:33:03 PM
Last Edited 8/7/2008 2:02:15 PM
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