Cheating Scandal Rocks AP Bio

Source: Becca Sanchez

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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.

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12 Responses to “Cheating Scandal Rocks AP Bio”

  1. shenze on October 20th, 2012 3:24 pm

    This has been very informative, as I have heard various rumors circling yesterday and today regarding this topic. Although I am not a member of the AP Biology class, it still makes me uneasy to hear about the degree of seriousness in which these teachers treat cheating. This is especially interesting since many AP classes hold similar study groups, and it is always an unclear answer as to where the line lays between cheating, and successfully taking advantage of useful resources.

  2. anom on October 20th, 2012 4:56 pm

    I think “cheating” has never been given a set definition and that creates a really big problem. What can we define as cheating? If I am doing an online assignment and see a question that I don’t know the answer to, what can I do? If I look for answers online, is that cheating? I think Mr. Roisen believes that receiving help is alright as long as you understand the concepts that go with the answer, so ultimately, this whole problem is based upon integrity, and it will be hard to pinpoint someone as a “cheater”.

  3. Sabiha Viswanathan on October 21st, 2012 9:13 pm

    Although I am also not in the AP Biology course, I have many friends that are and it is a shame to see the extent to which this group has gone. I think that it is unfair to students who really did not cheat to have that weight on them that anything they did on that group could be considered cheating.

  4. shoover on October 22nd, 2012 2:57 pm

    I actually believe that most students do their best not to cheat. Of course there are always exceptions, but I think the majority of students, especially the ones in AP classes, do their best to learn the material and not just copy down answers mindlessly. Problems occur when the line gets fuzzy: for example, is posting the answer key to the review packet condoning cheating or allowing fellow students to better understand the material and know if they have a misconception? I think most students are trying to better understand the material, but it’s those few who take the opportunity to copy who ruin it for everyone.

  5. Nhug on October 23rd, 2012 4:29 pm

    It doesn’t suprise me that the integrity of Facebook groups is being questioned. The content posted in them can definitely be called borderline cheating at times. It’s time the MA administration took a stance either way on these groups.

  6. Ryan on October 23rd, 2012 7:32 pm

    I was shocked to hear about this scandal! In a rigorous course like AP Bio, the stress can lead to a lack of integrity among students. Though the blame is clearly on the students, teachers need to make their policies clearer. It seems as if each classroom at M-A comes with a new set of rules. More consistency among teachers would surely clear up issues.

  7. alai on October 23rd, 2012 7:52 pm

    While facebook groups for classes may potentially invite cheating, they’re often great to have, as they make it much easier to reach out to your classmates for help. Also, it seems like what exactly does and does not constitute cheating isn’t really known, and I think that teachers need to clearly draw that line so as to avoid future incidents like this one.

  8. rgordan on October 25th, 2012 2:24 pm

    There’s a fine line between cheating and helping to teach a struggling friend the material. There’s never an excuse for cheating, but it seems like the staff need to make students aware of where that line is for each class.

  9. sparish on October 25th, 2012 5:05 pm

    As a member of the AP Bio Study Group on Facebook, I was pretty scared when the whole thing came up. The group is useful, but yeah, sometimes things go up that could be considered cheating. It’s mostly just people asking questions or explaining stuff, but still. I’m just glad things have been cleared up now. And Mr. Roisen is part of the group!

  10. egrose on October 25th, 2012 7:15 pm

    The line between collaboration and giving someone an answer is definitely fuzzy. I think that this scandal made many students, not just those in AP Biology, more aware of this difference, and be sure that when helping other students, to provide a thorough explanation of a concept, not just giving away an answer.

  11. Nolan Martin on October 25th, 2012 9:00 pm

    The unexpected announcement in AP Bio did frighten me; the fact that the “line” between righteous behavior and cheating was somewhat blurred did not help. I think the ultimate outcome is positive, as Roisen’s help has proven valuable through Facebook.

  12. Katie Gaherty on October 30th, 2012 2:44 pm

    Many of my fellow peers worried of how far their involvement went in the AP Bio controversy. A lot of them emailed and confessed to their wrongs because they wanted to fix the mistakes that were made and gain back respect from a very inspirational teacher.

Cheating Scandal Rocks AP Bio