Speak out

The Baltimore Sun

THE ISSUE: -- Amid concerns about rampant cheating at Severna Park High School, Anne Arundel County student government leaders said that the problem is common at their schools, too, and goes unchecked because of defensive parents, weak administrators and a frantic competition to get into top colleges.

The discussion with school board members May 23 came a day after county school system officials stopped three Severna Park High students from retaking the Advanced Placement U.S. history exam after they allegedly got hold of a sealed packet of questions and sneaked into a bathroom to find answers in a review manual. The 42 other students in that May 11 testing group were told to retake the history exam May 24.

The lack of immediate sanctions against the students spurred an outcry at the high school. A student-led survey found that 70 percent believe a culture of cheating exists at the school, and 81 percent believe at least a quarter or more of the student body cheats.

After the College Board chided Severna Park High on May 22 for its lax test monitoring, Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell said he was so troubled that he has ordered a wholesale review of AP testing procedures in all of the district's 12 high schools. He promised that "disciplinary action will be taken as appropriate." Are parents, administrators and increased encouragement to take AP exams at least partly to blame for what students say is widespread cheating? And what is your opinion of the schools' handling of the issue?

Harsh penalties deter cheating

There is widespread cheating all over the school system.

One reason may be that students are expected or encouraged to take various Advanced Placement exams. The pressure of being the best can lead students to believe the ends justify the means. But getting a good grade does not and will never justify cheating.

Another reason cheating goes on is that nothing or little is done to cheaters who are caught. Students see cheating as an easy thing and the epidemic spreads.

The only way to stop this problem is to have harsh penalties for those who are caught cheating. This must happen in the home as well as the schools.

Victor Henderson Glen Burnie

Incident shouldn't hinder noncheaters

As a longtime AP English Language and AP English Literature teacher and table leader for grading of AP Literature with College Board, I have invested much time and energy encouraging students to achieve in English with one of the measures being a successful completion of the AP exam.

Students from all of our high schools prepare conscientiously for the test and take these tests seriously. It is one measure of their excellence. I watch my students develop, struggle to be more cogent and sophisticated in their writing leading towards the test and, more importantly, being prepared for college.

Think of all of the students who worked hard on these exams, think about all of the students across Anne Arundel County, across Maryland and across the nation and beyond who take these exams honestly. If it weren't for students who came forward to express outrage within that testing room this aberration would not have been reported. It is those students and the thousands in the school who work tirelessly and their AP teachers supported by great administrators including Dr. James Hamilton that have been injured by these students who have been punished.

I encourage a review of testing procedures. I know my school like others spends countless hours preparing for a proper administration of the exams. Their hard work should not be maligned or overshadowed by this incident. Punish the students and let's move on.

Elaine Boothby Annapolis

Faculty, staff share the blame

The AP cheating scandal, when you peel away some of the layers, is illustrative of a harmful administrative culture of rejection, and if that's unsuccessful, silencing of any hint of unperfect circumstances in the secondary levels of Severna Park educational system.

I have been, for a year, seeking anecdotes from secondary school parents as I consider the future of my children in my new home. I have come across patterns that I find again in the various media accounts of the AP exam cheating scandal.

A lack of administrative and teacher supervision empowers students to initiate and maintain campaigns of intimidation, harassment, sexual coersion, and, obviously, cheating.

Teachers walk out of classrooms; students are in restrooms, hallways, and stairways for long, unmonitored periods of time; computers with access to grading systems are easily hacked, within easy reach of students. Even with teachers present, supervision is minimal. Despite cell phone bans, students openly use them in class.

If a report is unsubstantiated by direct witness of a school official, the matter is initially and vigorously deemed questionable and unactionable, until worn down by more persistent parents' efforts. Over the course of a year, I heard several versions of the administrative party line, "We didn't see it, so what do you want us to do?"

The response to almost any reported issue, from academic concerns to harassment, is: if the student, either victimizer or victim, is making good grades, there is no official action warranted.

Victims and complainants are punished along with, or instead of, the transgressor, re: the cheating scandal. Non-cheaters and uncaught cheaters alike had to re-take the exam.

Let me put this simply. In Severna Park, kids who choose to act on their worst inclinations are free to do so. The rest learn, from the feeder system on up, to "deal."

Benfield Elementary offers a character education program. Why doesn't the entire feeder system offer it? Why isn't it continued through the secondary level?

A code of honor will work only if it is part of a process - a cultural change - developed in the context of partnerships and strategy. Let's tap into the wealth of experts we have in the region.

A. Rodriguez Severna Park

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