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updated: 10/8/2013 2:19 PM

Naperville District 203 clears up 'cheating' definition

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Terms like "cheating" and "self-plagiarism" now have clearer definitions in the student code at Naperville North and Naperville Central high schools, but the code's new academic integrity statement introduced this year doesn't change the adage "honesty is the best policy."

The new academic integrity code is a three-page document that prohibits cheating, plagiarism and giving or providing an unfair advantage -- whether done intentionally or unintentionally. It creates three levels of punishment depending on the severity of the academic crime and reminds students integrity is built on the values of responsibility, fairness, respect, trust and, as always, honesty.

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Principals Kevin Pobst of Naperville North and Bill Wiesbrook of Naperville Central said the new document, developed over three years of research and collaboration, is a vast improvement over what previously sufficed as an academic integrity policy.

"The old code was a few sentences and basically said 'if you cheat you get a zero,'" Pobst said. "It was not a good teaching document."

Administrators began updating the policy when they realized teachers and parents agreed on what constitutes cheating, but students were on a different page in these digital days.

"Students' understanding of cheating didn't match up with what they were going to face when they get to college," Pobst said.

Students were introduced to the policy, which is online and in their student handbooks, during discussion time on one of the year's first late start days, when teachers started a conversation about how to learn and complete assignments fairly.

The policy says students are prohibited from using unauthorized notes or sources of information on assignments; copying from someone else's work; allowing someone else to do their work; presenting someone else's ideas as their own; failing to properly attribute sources; submitting identical work for credit more than once without permission; attributing ideas to fake sources; providing material to others looking to gain a leg up on an exam or assignment; and working with anyone else on individual projects.

Those who engage in these behaviors can be referred to their dean, given detention, removed from eligibility for public recognition or honors societies or even suspended depending on the severity of the violation or the number of times it has occurred.

Although the new academic integrity code is on the books, Wiesbrook said it's open for discussion and evolution.

"We're engaging students and faculty in a dialogue about what we can do to reduce the incidence of cheating," Wiesbrook said.

That dialogue on Monday also included school board members, who voiced concerns about the code's preface leaving teachers too much latitude to punish students for using certain sources or asking each other questions online.

The preface tells students they must ask teacher permission to use "any particular source of information to complete assigned work."

"It is your responsibility to ask for clarification and permission prior to completing assigned work," the preface says.

Several board members said that shifts too much responsibility to the student.

"The kids aren't going to ask for permission for what they think is a natural way to study," board member Mike Jaensch said.

Pobst said the paragraph preceding the code meant to tell students they must have conversations with teachers in order to properly implement the integrity code. He said he will look to edit the preface for clarity and both principals will make sure students understand it as discussions of the policy continue.

"We're willing to work on the language depending on whether it turns out to be fair," Pobst said, "whether it turns out to be realistic."

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