Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school. In the letter, they explain the scope of the incidents, including the taking, sharing and selling of cell phone photos of exam questions.
The administrators close their letter by saying, “We feel fortunate to have a wonderful student body (at Middleton High) whose academic record on multiple assessments is top-notch. We are hopeful that through our collaborative efforts we can determine the root cause of talented students choosing to participate in dishonest academic practices. In January, we will host a series of focus groups including staff, students and parents to problem-solve short- and long-term solutions.”
Ms. Herrmann and Ms. Jondle, I think I can save you lots of time on focus groups. I’m the parent of a high school student, albeit in Madison, and I have a pretty good inkling on the “root cause” of why “talented students” would choose to cheat.
It’s because these students are reminded every day that every test matters. These kids all have access to on-line forums like College Confidentialthat tell them, in no uncertain terms, that if they want to get into a top-ranked college or university, they better take the most rigorous high school curriculum available to them, which means calculus, perhaps even AP calc. But to get to calculus at all in high school, a year of math has to be skipped somewhere. The standard high school sequence has pre-calc as the 12th grade norm — so the jockeying for top dog status starts in elementary school.