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School Committee debates policy on cheating

May 22, 2014

North Kingstown School Committee member Lynda Avanzato called for teachers to have a greater say in punishment for student cheating.

NORTH KINGSTOWN—On Tuesday evening, the North Kingstown School Committee engaged in a lively debate regarding revisions to the district’s grading policies for academic dishonesty. School committee members expressed particular concern that students who cheat or plagiarize might have the opportunity to gain credit, not exceeding 50 percent, for a falsely submitted document, the determination for which would be made by assistant principal of Teaching and Learning Dr. Michele Humbyrd.

“Why does anybody deserve anything when they cheat?” said committee member John Boscardin. “To give someone partial credit for being a liar and a cheat is beyond me.

“This is a way of pushing people through the system, in my opinion,” he added. “If you cheat and plagiarize, you deserve to fail.”

“We are opening up the opportunity for excuses,”  said Larry Ceresi.

The policy goes further to state that, in the instance of cheating or plagiarizing, the assistant principal will also decide whether the involved student will have to redo the assignment to a proficient level, as well as if the National Honor Society will be notified or if a letter is placed in the student’s file.

Superintendent of Schools Philip Auger explained the motivation behind the policy, stating that, although he does not support cheating or plagiarizing of any kind, the circumstances behind a student’s actions vary and that giving a zero in every instance might not further the student’s education about cheating.

“While I think the punishment should be significant in most cases, I just don’t always believe it should be a zero,” said Auger. “We are here to teach a student about justice and the ethics of cheating, so we need to say, ‘you are not getting out of this’.”

“There are many students who would say, ‘thanks, I’ll take the zero because I don’t have to do it again’,” he added. “For a moment of temptation, they may have just ruined a significant part of their life, so I don’t necessarily feel that [a zero grade] is always just.”

Committee member Lynda Avanzato agreed with Auger’s explanation, but stated that teacher’s should have a greater say in how a student is penalized for cheating or plagiarizing.

“I  realize too, with the advent of the internet, that sometimes [students] may be plagiarizing and there is less awareness,” said Avanzato. “I just don’t like the fact that the teachers don’t have the discretion because they are the ones who have the best opportunity to practice that discretion.”

Robert Jones further noted that some flexibility should be allowed in determining whether a student has cheated or plagiarized because the directions or rules regarding the application of a particular assignment may not have been clearly explained to them.

“I am always concerned that there is some kind of contextual way to do it, and maybe it is more appropriate there is some kind of process,” said Jones. “As much as we want to fool proof most systems, there is always something that comes up that needs [examination].”

David Avedisian, a history teacher at the high school, presented the school committee with a petition signed by over 100 teachers, as well as an alternate policy promoting zero-tolerance for plagiarism and cheating. Avedisian also asked the committee to sit down with the teacher’s group in order to develop a better stated policy.

North Kingstown High School principal Thomas Kentworthy defended the work of the district’s policy sub-committee, stating that the grading policy document was reworked in several iterations.

“I think that even the language before you is representative of multiple drafts, a happy medium,” said Kentworthy. “There will be many cases that come up where a student cheated, but there will be grey areas. That is the place where the sub-committee tried to get the language.”

Ultimately, the school committee voted to table approving the revised grading policies in order to review the language for cheating and plagiarizing further, and whether a different process can be codified.
The school committee also debated whether Stony Lane Elementary School Principal Edward Ferrario, who was named last week as the state’s Principal of the Year by the Rhode Island Association of School

Principals, should be allowed a leave of absence from a teaching position which he now occupies in order to continue as principal. A number of members stated that approval of the leave is contrary to the committee’s rejection of similar requests from teachers in the past.

“I feel we need to be consistent with these, so I feel I can’t support this right now,” said Avanzato. “It has nothing to do with the individual involved, but is a fairness issue, and we have to answer for that.”

“When a teacher has come before this committee with this request, the recommendation has been ‘no’,” said Ceresi. “I believe we are on our fourth year of approving this leave of absence, but if you continue that precedent for one, you have to continue it for all.”

The school committee voted to continue the discussion regarding the leave of absence at the next committee meeting.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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