by David Safier
The story has a great punchline. After a metal detector was used to find and confiscate students' cell phones and secret transmitters before the test that helps determine which university Chinese students attend,
. . . an angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: "We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat."
No, this isn't a story from The Onion. It really happened in the city of Zhongxiang in Hubei province during June of last year. I just ran into the story a few days ago. This city's students have done very well on the exam in the past. Then came some evidence that was just too obvious to overlook.
Last year, the city received a slap on the wrist from the province's Education department after it discovered 99 identical papers in one subject. Forty five examiners were "harshly criticised" for allowing cheats to prosper.
So this year, a new pilot scheme was introduced to strictly enforce the rules.
When students at the No. 3 high school in Zhongxiang arrived to sit their exams earlier this month, they were dismayed to find they would be supervised not by their own teachers, but by 54 external invigilators randomly drafted in from different schools across the county.
The invigilators wasted no time in using metal detectors to relieve students of their mobile phones and secret transmitters, some of them designed to look like pencil erasers.
The students and parents were irate because, hey, everybody cheats on these tests. It's like athletes taking performance enhancing drugs because everyone else takes them, and if they don't, they won't stand a chance.
Lest you think students all over China learned their lessons after hearing of the sweep, here's a story from a few weeks ago.
Some 2,440 Chinese students taking a national exam have been caught using high-tech cheating gear that wouldn't be out of place in a spy film.
According to state media, invigilators detected abnormal radio signals that were being used to transmit the answers in code to candidates, who wore wireless ear pieces or placed "electronic erasers" on their desks.
More than 25,000 students took the exam to become licensed pharmacists in the northwestern city of Xian on October 18 and 19. The test took place in seven separate locations.
The organizers of the scam sent fake candidates to take the test, who quickly left after memorizing the questions. They then broadcast the correct answers to candidates, who had paid $330 for the service.
And here's a story less than 24 hours old:
Roughly 1,200 students [in Shanxi Province] sat for the test, working at spacious desks set up on the athletic field adjacent to the main building.
The reason for the unorthodox exam site seems to have been to prevent cheating. Patrolling the area was a pack of 80 on-foot proctors, and the students were also monitored by telescope and camera.
This post isn't about cheating in China. That just happens to be where these stories took place. Atlanta, Georgia, had a cheating scandal that was far worse, since the cheaters were teachers and administrators, not students. This is about high stakes testing where people's entire futures can rest on making the cut score. Too often, the stakes lead to institutionalized cheating, whether it's blatant like these examples or more subtle. In the process, students' educations are damaged, and the cheating takes away whatever validity the test results may have had.