In past years we allowed students to bring notes into Text Response and Craft of Writing SACs. To ensure consistency across classes, we specified that the notes had to be in the students’ own handwriting and that they were only allowed to bring in, say, two A4 pages. Of course, as specified in the Study Design the work had to be completed mostly in class and under teacher supervision. Seemed clear. Unfortunately, this allowed for cheating. Under such conditions, one student produced a film review vastly superior to anything that he had written, or that I believed he was capable of writing. Yet I’d supervised him, and the other students, closely during the SAC. He only had the permitted notes which I thought he’d produced largely under my supervision in a previous session.
At the next opportunity, I asked the boy to remain behind.
“Harry,” I said, “I don’t think this work is your own. You’re going to have to redo the SAC.” I can still see his open affronted mouth.
“I wrote that, I swear. You can ask anyone.”
“Look, Harry,” I said. “You’ve been getting a D average for the past two years. I know this isn’t your own work.”
“I swear to god it’s my work.”
“Well, I’m sorry, Harry, but I can’t accept it. I’m giving you the opportunity to repeat the task. You’re lucky to be given this opportunity. Many teachers would simply fail you.” I thought I was being extremely generous.
Just out of curiosity, I googled his work and, lo and behold, found the exact film review that he’d painstakingly hand-written on his two A4 sheets. He’d then evidently copied these a second time during the SAC.
Two days later, the principal summoned me. He questioned my supervision of SACs; demanded to know how I could have allowed this cheating to take place. You see, Harry had run home and told mum that his wicked teacher had accused her precious child of cheating. (By the way, how stupid was this kid??)
I explained exactly how Harry had managed to conceal his cheating and produced the article that the boy had plagiarised. Principal ordered me to ensure this never happened again. I must tighten up the procedure for SACs.
But mum was not mollified. Her hatred of me was put into writing for the record. How dare I suggest that her son wasn’t capable of producing A plus work? She trusted her son. Her son would never cheat. The teacher – me - was unprofessional and shouldn’t be allowed to teach let alone teach Year 12. And here’s the rub. Even after being shown the plagiarised documents she still didn’t believe that her son had cheated.
This incident prompted a review of our procedures for SACs. Students would no longer be permitted to use prepared notes during SACs.
Dictionaries would, however, still be permitted.
This year we’ve had a few incidences of students writing essays in their dictionaries. This happened in one of my classes. I was immediately suspicious when I noticed a student studying what appeared to be the Z section of his dictionary as soon as the SAC had begun.
In another teacher’s class, a student had meticulously typed an entire essay in about a 6 point font and had pasted it flawlessly throughout her dictionary.
Another of my students had his bag under his desk and for the duration of the SAC was taking surreptitious glances down at a page of prepared notes in his bag. I was very grateful to the student who dobbed him in because I had no idea, even though I was closely supervising. I just didn’t see him. He cheated so deftly and looked so innocent.
Another student, according to the posse that dobbed her in to the Year 12 coordinator, allegedly wrote parts of her essay on tiny scraps of paper concealed amongst the pencils in her pink pencil case. This one couldn’t be proved – the cleaner had emptied the bin where she’d allegedly disposed of the evidence - and the student had to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Now all bags and pencil cases must be placed at the back of the room before the SAC begins. Dictionaries must be surrendered to the supervising teacher at the start of the SAC. This hasn’t stopped kids writing essays on hands and arms. One desperate student had an intro on her palm and a topic sentence on each finger!
The craft of writing SAC is a joke. Our current practice – necessitated by the rifeness of cheating - is to ask students to produce a draft of each piece that they intend to complete in the SAC. Teachers comment on this first draft and make suggestions as to how it might be improved. Students must then reproduce this piece under exam conditions. Students with good memories can then vomit up what they’ve remembered. As if writers produce ‘finished’ pieces of writing in 90 minutes under such conditions.
We spend lots of time theorising about ‘Teaching and Learning’, and what is ‘powerful to learn’, thinking of all these wonderful ways to inspire learning. But this is the reality of the pressure of competition, disadvantaged desperate kids and the ENTER score.