Academic honesty policy

– A new school board policy, expected to be adopted later this
month, calls on students, parents, teachers and administrators to
confront and prevent dishonest behavior in the classroom.
Gilroy – A new school board policy, expected to be adopted later this month, calls on students, parents, teachers and administrators to confront and prevent dishonest behavior in the classroom.

Although the policy was created in response to the seemingly widespread practice of cheating at Gilroy High School, it addresses the issue of academic honesty districtwide. Currently, there is no policy on academic honesty consistent throughout the district. Each school has its own set of rules, and principals and teachers determine the appropriate discipline.

The general policy, presented for a first reading at Thursday’s board meeting, will provide a backbone for more specific, fleshed-out guidelines that teachers and principals in every school will be expected to follow. Those guidelines will include rules of discipline and a timeline for implementing the policy throughout the district.

A number of students at the high school admitted to using their cell phones to cheat by text messaging test answers to their friends or taking photographs of test questions with camera phones, as reported by The Dispatch in late January.

Some students also acknowledged other methods of cheating, such as writing answers on their legs and discreetly showing the answers to nearby friends during tests.

Superintendent Edwin Diaz said he expects the new policy will set up appropriate framework to help combat cheating, not only at the high school but in the entire district.

“This sends a clear message that the board expects a certain level of academic rigor and honesty in our classrooms,” he said.

The policy is the first to be created under the district’s recently formed policy subcommittee, which consists of Diaz and board members Rhoda Bress, David McRae and Patricia Midtgaard.

Over the next several months, the subcommittee will review all board policies and make recommendations for appropriate changes or additions.

The next policy to be developed will address the specific use of electronic devices in the classroom, including cell phones, and will incorporate input from principals, teachers and parents, Bress said.

A central theme in the academic honesty policy is its focus on teamwork to combat cheating. In part, the policy states: “Students, parents/guardians, staff and administrators shall be responsible for creating and maintaining a positive school climate that encourages honesty. Students must know that their teachers will not ignore academic dishonesty. Students found to have committed an act of academic dishonesty shall be subject to district and school-site discipline rules.”

Making sure students hold themselves accountable is a key part in making the policy work, said GHS biology teacher Julie McLaughlin.

“In theory, it’s a great idea to have a policy that expresses expectations, so kids know what they’re expected to do,” McLaughlin said after school Friday. “But it’s also hard to punish kids for being dishonest when they can sometimes lie to your face and you don’t know.”

Maybe, though, the fact that the board is developing such a policy will send a message to students: Don’t cheat, or there will be consequences, McLaughlin said.

“Hopefully, it will … make kids feel like they need to be honest,” she said.

To develop policies, the subcommittee uses models from the California School Boards Association and also researches policies of other school districts. GUSD’s academic honesty policy will draw from a similar policy in the Ventura Unified School District, which Bress said is well-defined and specific, including definitions of cheating and plagiarism as well as an appeals process.

“We want to make our expectations in this area very clear,” she said.

Coming up …

Who: GUSD Board of Education

What: Board meeting including second reading of academic honesty policy

When: March 17 at 7:30pm

Where: District office, 7810 Arroyo Circle

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