Do the Honor, Sign the Code!

Georgia Rosenberg ’19

Have you been wondering why you are required to sign your name to the Honor Code before every assessment? Although this was a requirement in some classes and departments during previous years at SLS, the 2016-17 school year is the first year when this is a definitive requirement for all classes and departments. Every upper school student, no matter which grade, must sign their name to the Honor Code before beginning an assessment.

Last year’s survey regarding the issue of cheating revealed that 28% of students said they had cheated at least once throughout their academic career. Last spring, a presentation was given regarding trends of academic dishonesty within our community. The data from this survey demonstrated that a surprising amount of students had cheated before. Thus, it started the conversation about what could be done to reduce this number.

Following the presentation, the Honor Council discussed the issue of combating academic dishonesty in our community. “The Honor Council is committed to trying to be proactive around issues of honor,” said Ms. Parker-Burgard, who is the main faculty advisor to the Honor Council. She explained that the council discussed a couple different ways to go about dealing with the recurring instances of academic dishonesty.

They came across a substantial amount of research that speaks to the value of exposing students to honorable things right before taking an assessment. “This research is very compelling,” she said, as it shows that when students are reminded of anything honorable before starting a test or quiz, the rate of cheating is much lower. Ms. Perry, head of the Upper School, was also instrumental in the decision making process. She explained that she feels this will be an effective way to lower the number of Honor Council cases and instances of cheating in the SLS upper school. According to Ms. Perry, by reading the Honor Code before an assessment a student is reminding themselve that they are “a good person.”

Ms. Perry also mentioned the fact that many colleges have this practice and have proven it to be very effective. Under the guidance of faculty including Ms. Parker-Burgard and Ms. Perry, the nine students on the Honor Council agreed that this was certainly something worth exploring. Ultimately, the process reached all members of the Upper School faculty.

When the new policy began being discussed, it was decided that each department would have the ability to come up with something different, whether it be an individualized Honor Code or a specific way to have students sign the code. Each teacher has also been given the opportunity to develop their own philosophy regarding the policy. Ms. Perry stressed the effectiveness of letting each department choose their own way. By doing this, she said, the departments can learn from each other to figure out what does and does not work.

Ms. Parker-Burgard believes that this implementation will not only benefit the student taking the assessment at that specific moment, but will also empower other students who hesitate to say no when a friend asks about what material or questions were on an assessment. She believes that this will cause students to step back and say to themselves, “Not only did I sign that document, but you also have to, so why would I compromise both of us?”

Though the signing of the Honor Code may not directly correlate to the record of Honor Council cases thus far, both Ms. Parker-Burgard and Ms. Perry noted that there have not yet been any cases of academic dishonesty this year. In contrast, there were 13 academic integrity violations last year, almost all of which occurred in the fall and winter. “My goal would be for that number to be lowered,” Ms. Perry said. She also noted that it is important to take into consideration that a loss of impact may occur and that close attention will be paid to the process and its impact.

Though this new rule seems to only have a positive side in terms of its impact on the community and efficacy, some faculty members have had concerns about the implementation. “When we initially offered this to teachers, we asked department chairs to talk about it in their departments. I know that there was some pushback from some teachers,” said Ms. Parker-Burgard. Those who are critics of the decision worry that it puts students in a position of immediately being distrusted, rather than being trusted, by their teachers. Ms. Perry mentioned that one faculty member worried that this was akin to treating students like criminals.

Both Ms. Perry and Ms. Parker-Burgard want all SLS students to know that the faculty is on their side. “If it creates mistrust, we are doing it wrong,” said Ms. Perry, adding that the signing of the Honor Code is intended to allow the student to remind him/herself to be the best self you can be. “This is not about distrusting, this is about recognizing a human temptation and wanting to bring out the best in your students,” said Ms. Parker-Burgard. Additionally, they both expressed that this decision was made to create a system of support between students and faculty.

Students have expressed mixed responses towards the effectiveness of signing the Honor Code before every assessment. Grace Cashman ‘17 said that she feels the policy has not been effective. “I don’t read it, I just sign it because that’s the cover of every test, because I’m worried about time for my test.” Bella Dore ‘17 also feels that signing the Honor Code has not been beneficial, stating “I don’t think anybody takes it seriously, nor do they really think anything of it, they just think of it as another step to getting on within a test.” On the contrary, Jack Quinn ‘19 said that he believes the policy has been effective. “It makes me think twice about what I’m doing and it’s good to keep it in mind,” he said.  

Whether this particular implementation is ultimately fruitful or not, St. Luke’s is raising awareness about the issue of academic dishonesty, one that is important for all students to be conscious of before continuing their academic careers in college and beyond. These are not only valuable lessons of academia, but also those of life, as students are encouraged to reflect upon their morals and truthfulness. This new policy will hopefully spark more conversation regarding Honor Council related topics within our St. Luke’s community and will ideally prevent further instances of academic dishonesty.

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