Cheating has gone from a nasty habit to a nationwide epidemic. In March,nine seniors from Leland High School, a well-known public school in San Jose, California, organized a cheating ring after one student broke into classrooms to steal test information; in May, a junior from Panther Creek High School in Cary, North Carolina, was caught handing out test answers to classmates; and last fall, 20 or so students from Great Neck, Roslyn, and other Long Island towns were arrested for cheating on the SAT—at least four of them admitted to being paid to take the test for their friends. We’ve all been witness to a test answer passed in a note during class, but large-scale cheating schemes driven by America’s best and brightest?
The editors at New York Magazine decided to get to the bottom of it. In a recent study, the magazine reports, Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor, found that people determine their intelligence based on scores rather than on overall self-improvement. According to the article: “Students come to see school not as a place to grow and learn, but as a place to demonstrate their intelligence by means of a number.” A tough economy and an over-saturated job market don’t help much, as students feel more pressure to make the grade.
But why do the smartest students sometimes cheat? Because ambitious young people enrolled in high-profile schools are aware of their institution’s reputations and that Harvard only admits so many students from these schools, explains the magazine. Further down the road, Goldman Sachs will hire only so many Harvard kids. The result: Competition to the nth degree.
“Kids here know that the difference between a 96 and a 97 on one test isn’t going to make any difference in the future,” Edith Villavicencio, a senior at Stuyvesant, New York City’s top public high school, which had its own scandal this year, tells New York Magazine. “But they feel as if they need the extra one point over a friend, just because it’s possible and provides a little thrill.”