The Uproar

Academic Integrity at NA

It's all too easy to compromise our values in the race for rank

photo by Kaycee Orwig

photo by Kaycee Orwig

Anya Soller, Opinions Editor

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Read the whole novel or spare a few minutes on Shmoop? Take the Calc test honestly or hit up a friend who took it earlier today? As it turns out, you’re not the only one. And that may be a problem.

Academic integrity, a value so necessary to preserve the strength of education, has, in its absence, revealed the flaws of a weakened system. As the NA Code of Conduct currently states, “The District views academic integrity to be of the utmost importance.” That importance, however, is often viewed by students with flagrant disregard. In a high-stress, competitive environment, the pressure to succeed can overtake the moral principle North Allegheny seeks to maintain. Integrity, elusive in nature, is far easier to betray than to serve.

So what is the state of integrity at NASH today? The answer, as unfortunate as it may be, defines the character of the school and its students.

At first glance, the cheating policy at North Allegheny lays a solid foundation for students to abide by: “Students should not take others work and attempt to pass it off as their own, or cheat on assignments, quizzes, or exams.” This doctrine is clear. The real trouble lies beneath the glossy statement that addresses specific instances of cheating but not the daily, more subtle behaviors of even the school’s most noble students. Cheating is no longer characterized as the explicit, “eyes on your own paper” offenses we were warned against as children. Cheating is the whispering of answers between class periods. It’s reading the Sparknotes instead of the book. It’s doing anything necessary to make the grade.

Academic integrity is built upon the idea that students and educators must value an education over a number or letter grade, no matter the cost.”

While utilizing Shmoop or Slader isn’t entirely dishonorable or insidious, the obvious implication of this all-too-common activity is that students are sacrificing their own education for the completion grade they are unwilling to let slip. Integrity and the objective of learning are abandoned without hesitation. Seemingly insignificant choices, like sharing the content of an exam with a friend or copying math solutions from the textbook’s index, actively work against the ultimate purpose of a student: to learn. The duty to pay attention to the course material is overshadowed by the more pressing business of receiving a satisfactory grade point average.

The epidemic of wavering academic integrity is not caused by “bad” kids or slackers; it’s caused by misplaced priorities and expectations. It’s no secret that North Allegheny has a high-achieving, highly-stressed population of students who aim to do great things. The path to those great things, however, is paved with the Wikipedia articles scoured at 2 AM because an essay was due in five hours.

Academic integrity is built upon the idea that students and educators must value an education over a number or letter grade, no matter the cost. That cost, it seems, has become too high for students to pay at NA. The pressure to achieve has overtaken the responsibility to uphold the school’s and one’s own standards.

The consequences of abysmal integrity reach farther than NASH’s own walls and into the world awaiting graduates. Whether a student enters college or a job, his or her habits and patterns follow closely behind. Taking shortcuts on homework assignments or essays can easily snowball into taking shortcuts in tasks with higher stakes. Insisting upon integrity is not meant to make students’ lives harder but to prepare them for the choices waiting for them in the future.

Rejecting the artificial pressure surrounding classwork is the first step to mending the broken system keeping students from succeeding honorably. Once students feel safer in failing with their own work than benefitting with someone else’s, North Allegheny’s student body may realize that education isn’t about focusing solely on the next step but on the steps that build to something beyond a deadline.

It’s time for NA’s students to think bigger. There’s more to a book than what Sparknotes can teach you, and there’s more to learning than earning a perfect score.

3 Comments

3 Responses to “Academic Integrity at NA”

  1. Thomas Mooney on January 10th, 2018 11:33 am

    Anya. Thank you for this piece. I appreciated your closing sentence… it conveys the very essence of one’s pursuit of true knowledge. Failure is said to be a great teacher. Keep writing.

    [Reply]

  2. Ellen on January 11th, 2018 8:09 am

    “When students cheat on exams it’s because our school system values grades more than students value learning.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson

    [Reply]

  3. Sebastian Immonen on January 11th, 2018 11:33 pm

    I recently read a book that roasts the elite colleges because they have this same mindset you talk about here. About one student, it said “only after the student got into [blah blah blah] did they actually ask questions they were interested in, finally torn away from the pressure for a grade.”

    [Reply]

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