In the following message, an ASL instructor asks about cheating. The
instructor’s name and email have been edited to protect her and her
I have a serious question. Recently I gave an exam to my students.
Due to problems in the past with certain students voicing during
class I had a student assistant come in to proctor during the exam
and help listen for voicing (I am Deaf). The proctor caught one of
my students cheating twice on the test. She [the proctor] told me
after the test was completed.
What should I do? Give the student an F on that test? Fail her from
You mention "voicing" and you mention "cheating." Was the cheating
voice-based or was it based on some other process? Meaning, "Did
your proctor go to class to listen for voicing and just "happen" to
catch someone looking off of someone else's paper?
Voicing during an exam is only one-half of the cheating equation. A
person does not personally benefit by voicing, but rather he/she
enables or benefits someone else (the listener). Do you also know
who is the "other person" -- the one who benefited from the voicing?
If you accuse the student of cheating which you did not personally
witness it becomes your proctor's word against the individual. If
the individual flat out denies that it took place (which is likely)
then you may get to "enjoy" the appeal process.
A college administrator friend of mine who has had to oversee
numerous appeals, grievances, etc. on such issues tells me that when
this type of thing goes to an appeals committee the evidence of
cheating “has to be very compelling and first-hand by the instructor
of record.” In the situation you have described, the evidence would
probably not be sufficient to uphold a charge of cheating.
If you are positive of the cheating then you can either reduce her
grade for the test, give her zero for the test, or flunk her for the
class. However, the longer you wait to take action the more
problematic any discipline will become.
You may wish to inform the student that a proctor has witnessed
behavior that had the appearance of cheating and that rather than
giving her an "F" you are going to "allow" her to retake a different
version of the test in "isolation."
One more way to deal with it is rather than reducing her grade for
cheating, you can reduce it for TALKING in the first place since she
should not have been voicing. Or tell her that she was observed
cheating and that you are reducing her grade. If and when she denies
cheating then simply tell her that rather than debate the issue --
you are reducing her grade for voicing.
Earlier this semester I caught a student cheating. I was doing
one-on-one expressive exams where I interview students and then I
ask them to sign certain sentences or phrases for me that they read
off of a monitor. I like to give students a moment to read through
the sentences before they begin signing. Prior to beginning the exam
for this particular student I stepped out of my office for a moment
to get a quick drink of water. When I came back into the room I was
floored to note that in the very short span of time that I was gone
the student had whipped out her phone, accessed my web site, and was
in the process of viewing one of my instructional videos
demonstrating those sentences!
I saw it, there was no doubt in my mind. I caught her red handed (or
“phone handed”) and there was no doubt in my mind what she was
Hmmm, what to do? Give her zero? Fail her?
It was a complex situation. Technically the test hadn’t started. The
sentences were on my computer screen but I had not explicitly stated
that those would be what she was being testing on. Additionally, had
I been in the room the whole time it is certain that she would not
have engaged in such behavior. (Locks do not keep dishonest men out
rather they help keep honest men honest.)
Even when you are “sure” of the cheating, it doesn’t mean that you
will be able to convince an appeals panel. Imagine if it got to the
appeals committee and the student stated that the test hadn’t
started yet and that while waiting for me she innocently decided to
check her email and that her phone naturally defaulted to the most
recent screen which was my videos that she had been studying earlier
-- and that is the moment when I walked in.
So, what did I do?
I simply switched the sentences to a new set and gave her the test
and then at the end of the test I explained to her that her signing
was very good and that had she not attempted to cheat she would have
gotten an “A” (on the test) but that she would be receiving a lower
grade on it. I reduced the grade, she accepted the reduction and
left -- end of story. Had I given her zero and had it caused her to
not pass the class she would likely have initiated the appeals
The process of disciplining a student for cheating is not that much
different from what a district attorney goes through in using the
“plea bargaining” process to handle a perpetrator. If a perp has
nothing to lose, he will likely go to a full trial. From a student’s
perspective it is often easier and/preferable to drag an instructor
through the “appeal process” than it is to retake a class. Thus when
informing students of what I’m going to do I sometimes tell them of
all the things I could do, (give them and F for the class, have a
note placed in their permanent record, initiate expulsion from the
school, etc.), and then when I simply reduce their grade they seem
Some general tips:
1. When your classroom is overcrowded, consider separating your
students into two groups, half the class in each group and give the
exam twice (once to each group) that way you can spread the students
2. Warn the students to not move their lips or open their mouths
during the test AT ALL.
3. Bring a camcorder to class and set it up and aim it at the class.
I brought TWO camcorders to one of my tests this semester.
4. Tell the students where to sit. Don't let them sit by their
friends during tests. Make sure to position suspected students
“front and center.” In your seating arrangements, do be mindful of
individuals with disabilities who may need to sit close to see
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