News: Cheating Scandal Rocks AP Bio

Photo Credit: Becca Sanchez

A screenshot of the online Facebook group that many think is the cause of Roisen's suspicion. The majority of Roisen's AP Biology students are now second-guessing whether their actions could potentially be considered cheating (altered)

Asked to confess by Monday if they have been involved in unspecified acts of cheating, AP Biology students are on edge, sparking questions about the true definition of cheating.

In his AP classes yesterday, teacher Patrick Roisen brought up the topic of cheating, implying that he thought students had copied assignments. “I realize that you are teenagers, you make mistakes, and so I’m giving you the opportunity to email me by Monday to confess any instances of cheating,” said Roisen in a speech to each of his four classes. ”I am giving you the opportunity to show PRIDE.”

Roisen refused to comment on what specifically motivated the speech, saying, “I won’t reveal that information at this time. There are multiple things, and I never give away my methods of identifying cheating.”

In an interview, Roisen explained that “if you’re explaining something to somebody, if you’re helping them understand, if you’re helping them learn—that’s fine…[But] by giving them direct answers you’re not teaching them stuff, that’s just you doing the work for multiple people, so that’s where I draw the line .”

Roisen’s vague comments to his AP Biology classes sparked a proliferation of rumors, and even confessions. Many students were intimidated, left unclear about whether past actions qualified as cheating under Roisen’s definition.

After school, panicked students talked to their counselors, wondering if they knew more. About 20 kids went up to Roisen in an attempt to clear their names of any possible wrongdoing. He’s expecting many more to email him over the weekend.

Roisen explained that while these students did nothing wrong, he would have liked them to come to him if they saw instances of what could be considered cheating. He puts the onus on the students to report anything that might be in violation of the academic integrity code.

Another incident sprang from one student, who wishes to remain anonymous, creating a Facebook group “only want[ing] to help people.” Among other posts, this student posted his answers to an optional study guide that could be used during the last five minutes of a test. He informed Roisen of this, as did others. Roisen asked them to send him a link to the page, which he has now joined as an administrator to allow him to monitor the group’s activities and hopefully prevent cheating.

With the growth of social media, online cheating has become a more significant problem. A scandal occurred last year on the state level when camera-phone pictures of the STAR test were released on a social media site.

“That wouldn’t have happened fifteen years ago,” said Instructional Vice Principal Steve Lippi. “No one would have brought in a camera… [This is] not to say that students in the past couldn’t have cheated, but it’s just a lot easier now.”

Yet work online can also yield invaluable resources; as Mr. Lippi put it, “it’s a gray area.”

Previously, AP classes such as AP Physics have used Facebook groups to communicate and discuss classwork. Teacher Jeff Decurtins supported the online AP Physics group, and was included in it.

“I think [study groups] are a good thing,” said Decurtins. “Teachers aren’t the sole providers of information or knowledge or understanding; students sometimes do better teaching each other than the teachers do.”

Roisen himself does not condemn Facebook study groups. He also added that he might differ with other teachers on the definition of cheating. “I don’t look for cheating…but each class is different. It’s [the teacher's] class and therefore their rules.”

The consequences for cheating, reiterated as a deterrent throughout high school, can be severe. To his classes, Roisen spoke about what Lippi describes as the “privilege” of taking AP classes. ”I would really hate to see 2, 3, 4, or 5 people from this period get dropped [from the class],” he reportedly said.

The rationale is that students who are not willing to put in the work necessary for success and who instead resort to cheating have reason to be removed from the course.