The purpose of this paper is to examine the discussions, practices and procedures of the New South Wales post-primary examination board, the Board of Secondary School Studies' (BSSS), administration of the Intermediate Certificate regulations concerning cheating, applications for remarks and special examination arrangements due to sickness between 1930 and 1957. The attitude of the Board to cheating, feigning sickness and appealing against an examiner's assessment is used to gain an insight into the 'mind' of the Board and the changing status of examinations within the community.
It has been reported that school children and teachers perceive cheating in secondary schools as a problem. In the cross cultural study of cheating Evans, Craig and Mietzel (1993) reported that as many as 80% of students believed cheating to be a problem. Evans and Craig (1990a, 1990b) had earlier reported that 50% to 70% of teachers and 60% to 70% of students perceived cheating to be a problem. Godfrey and Waugh (1993) using the same questions with a sample of 223 Australian students report the same percentage range. The students from religious schools are similar to other students surveyed in that more than 74% strongly agree or agree that they perceive cheating to be a serious problem in schools (Godfrey & Waugh, 1997, 1998).
A large majority (67% agree or strongly agree) of students believe that students who cheat are usually not caught at their deception, that academic dishonesty is rarely reported to teachers (91% disagree or strongly disagree) and when it is reported 69% believe it is not punished (Godfrey & Waugh, 1997, 1998). Godfrey and Waugh (1998) also report that students studying in religious schools are apparently not shielded from the knowledge or involvement in less serious cheating practices. Secondary pupils from religious schools are concerned at the level of cheating in their schools, they have a clear understanding of cheating practices and have engaged in most of the types of cheating behaviour at least once in their schooling.
Studies on the history of academic dishonesty are rare (see Godfrey, 1990). The need for such research is warranted to ascertain the historical roots of the phenomena, to analysis its incidence in earlier decades, to examine the procedures used to deal with the phenomena and outline the relevance of previous procedures for current assessment policy. The purpose of this paper is to examine the discussions and practices of the New South Wales Board of Secondary School Studies (BSSS) between 1930 and 1957 to ascertain the Board's policies and procedures in regard to Intermediate Certificate examination (IC) dishonesty, appeals for re-marks and applications for special consideration due to illness. These techniques were used by candidates to gain a pass in a subject without actually fulfilling all the requirements to warrant a pass. The attitude of the Board to cheating, feigning sickness and appealing against an examiner's assessment is used to gain an insight into the 'mind' of the Board and the community in regard to examination irregularities. Finally the Board's policies are examined to determine if there are any applications relevant for current assessment policy.
In the history of assessment reform in Australian schools the major phenomena of change over the past six decades is a pattern of steady and continual shift from school assessments being conducted by external examination to the use of internal school assessments. For example the fully external New South Wales Intermediate Certificate examination was used for assessment in the junior years of secondary school from 1911 until 1944. At that time after two decades of debate a partly internal Intermediate was introduced. In 1949 the structure of the examination was changed again to a completely internal mode. Finally it was replaced in the early 1960s with an external examination taken after an additional year of schooling (Godfrey, 1989). This examination followed the same pattern of change as its predecessor. In other states of Australia similar patterns of assessment change mirrored the New South Wales examination change phenomena. Unfortunately there is evidence to support the view that as school assessments moved from the external to the internal mode so the incidence of dishonest assessment practices by students increased. Internal assessment procedures can make it easier for students to be dishonest. Dishonest practices used with internal assessments include copying from books and assignments set in previous years, unwarranted collusion amongst students in preparing assignments, gaining assistance from relatives, using illegal notes, copying in tests in relaxed classroom settings, feigning illness during class assessment sessions and appealing against an assessment without justification.
When the Board of Secondary School Studies replaced the Board of Examiners in 1937, it inherited the rules and regulations. The new Board had been established to report to the Minister of Education on a reformed post-primary examination scheme. The members took their task seriously. Numerous meetings in the first years of the Board's existence were devoted almost entirely to the issue of examination change. However, the members could not ignore the numerous mundane administrative issues inherent in the application of the examination regulations. These duties required their constant attention. The Board's administrative responsibilities were made increasingly difficult as the number of candidates climbed throughout the period of its administration from 9 291 in 1929 to 34 453 in 1957. The mere chore of arranging the marking of the twenty-one thousand Intermediate Certificate (IC) English papers administered at the last completely external examination in 1943 was a mammoth task in itself. As the number of papers to be assessed increased so the administrative details and investigations of suspect cases associated with those assessments escalated. The additional burden of the perennial problems of dishonesty, appeals for re-marks and the provisions to be made available for sick candidates became a significant concern to the BSSS from the late 1930s to the 1950s.
Early in each year the Board dealt with cases of cheating which were reported by inspectors, principals and examination supervisors. The methods reported were those well-known to teachers and students alike; collusion, concealment of textbook pages, notes on small hand-held cards and even impersonation of fellow students. The cheating techniques reported were pedestrian, adding little of a creative nature to the history of the art (see Board of Examiners [BE], 6 January 1933).
The BSSS inherited from the Board of Examiners [BE] the rule that cheating in a single paper meant cancellation of all papers, failure in the examination as a whole and the non-issuing of a certificate. The application of this harsh penalty indicates the Board's attitude to cheating and the importance it attached to maintaining public confidence in the assessment processes. To disqualify a candidate in all subjects on the basis of evidence of cheating in one may have been unfair; but the public recognised that the integrity of the examination was paramount and accepted the BSSS' decisions with few complaints.
Some parents however, judged that the incidence of dishonesty demonstrated that the pressure placed on students by examinations was excessive. The harsh penalty only increased the antagonism of some members of the public and a minority of educators to examinations in general. They saw cheating as a symptom of "the formidable strain which is imposed upon the psycho-physical energies of the pupils" by the examination system (Cole, 1927, p. 70; cf., Boyd, 1938, p. 420; Johnston, 2 February 1933).
The BSSS enforced this rule with a few minor exceptions until the 1940s when the policy came under close scrutiny (BSSS, 17 February 1938; 2 March 1939). The scrutiny was due to the change in the form of the examination from external to partially internal in 1944. The question arose as to the procedure the BSSS should follow in the case of a candidate found cheating in an internal examination administered by an approved school. The Board decided, without hesitation, that those who cheated in an internal examination would be treated identically to those who cheated in external examinations; that is, a single act of cheating meant all papers would be cancelled, both internal and external (BSSS, 22 January 1945; 21 January 1946; 17 January 1947; 19 January 1948).
A slackening of the rule became evident from 1948 onwards. From that time, in some cases, only those subjects in which the malpractice was discovered were cancelled (BSSS, 19 January 1948; 5 February 1948; 16 January 1951; cf. 19 January; 3 February 1949; 9 February 1950). A definite attempt was made in 1951 to further soften this rigid procedure and issue a statement of results for those subjects in which no malpractice was discovered. The suggestion was well argued on the basis of common justice. Nevertheless, a motion moved by Professor Anderson of Sydney University, a strong supporter of the external public examination system opposing the move was won by 6 votes to 3 (BSSS, 8 February 1951). In spite of this official confirmation of the long-lasting rigid regulation the rules continued to be applied with compassion (BSSS, 13 January 1953). The BSSS was forced to lessen its strict malpractice rule as it increasingly came under pressure from parents. During the years 1937 to 1957 a number of serious protests arose against decisions involving alleged cheating (BSSS, 7 & 17 January, 20 February 1941, 6 February 1947, 5 February 1948 & February 1950). The Minister even attempted to interfere in one case (BSSS, 11 January; 8 February 1943).
A second factor that influenced the Board in the early 1950s to moderate the application of its anti-cheating regulations was the appointment of new Board members who were not necessarily committed to the strong anti-malpractice stance. The new members realised that the enforcement of the regulations did not decrease the incidence of cheating. They were being less than just in applying the catch-cry rule of: 'once a cheat always a cheat'. Some members believed that the cancellation of all papers punished the culprit more than the evidence warranted. On the other hand, some longstanding members argued that the cancellation of a certificate for cheating in a single examination was not unfair. Some dishonest students did not need to obtain a pass in the paper in which the cheating was discovered to be awarded an IC. To cancel the irrelevant paper meant that no penalty, except embarrassment, would be inflicted. Often the cheating was discovered in the candidate's weakest paper. If only the one paper was cancelled the candidate had nothing to lose by attempting to gain a pass by unfair means (see Godfrey, 1989, p. 533).
In the 1950s Board members began to recognise that the highest incidence of cheating was discovered among those students who had least to lose. It became evident that the weakest IC candidates from various types of schools, and those who were attempting the minimum number of subjects and the less prestigious subjects, were the main offenders. The Board was probably only detecting those who were not clever enough to deceive the administration. The incidents recorded in the minutes were only the iceberg's tip. Significantly it was the weakest, more vulnerable tip being further disadvantaged.
The incidence of cheating knew no boundaries. State, Private, Independent and Catholic schools all gained dishonourable mention during the Board investigations of academic malpractice. A wide ranging, yet systematic investigation was undertaken in 1948 into the practice books submitted for the 1947 Leaving Certificate Physics and Chemistry (BSSS, 9 January 1948). A thorough report prepared by the Board Secretary revealed that the experiments were not only scientifically unsound and inaccurate, but were also conducted on days such as April 31, Good Friday and Easter Sunday 1947. Teachers initialed the experiments that were supposedly undertaken in class on those dates.
The Catholic representative on the Board expressed surprise that the schools he represented were the majority of schools involved with fiasco involving the Physics and Chemistry practice books. He requested that the names of schools be deleted from the reports (BSSS, 5 February 1948). His surprise might have been dampened if he had been aware of the assistance given to some candidates by a minority of his teachers in the 1940s during the reading time when teachers were allowed in the examination room (Russo, 1990). Catholic educators were not unmindful that creditable examination results were important to the many small understaffed Catholic schools to assist them to maintain student numbers (see Corrigan, 1936, p. 24; Ralton, 1944). Their desire for results possibly clouded their strong moral beliefs.
The new principal of the Seventh-day Adventist high school in the centre of Australasian Adventism met the Board chairman in 1952. The principal attempted to lessen the impact of the furore over a thorough investigation of the procedures followed at the 1951 Intermediate Certificate internal examinations held at the Cooranbong Seventh-day Adventist High School. Some inconsistency was apparent in the manner in which the internal examination results had been awarded (see Bursary Endowment Board, 1934-1960; BSSS, 6 November 1952).
The incidence and ubiquity of cheating was a factor that helped sway Board members to introduce a partially internal Intermediate in 1944, and a fully internal Intermediate in 1949 and to lessen the severity of the penalty imposed on dishonest candidates. The Board members believed that the incidence of malpractice would decrease with accreditation, for it would be more difficult to deceive a class teacher acquainted with a student's performance displayed over three years than an examiner marking one three-hour examination. Internal examinations would also lessen the strain of assessment and thus the incentive to cheat would be reduced. The Board gradually gave up its strong policies on dishonest practices in external examinations and by introducing internal school based examinations passed not only the administration of IC assessment to the schools but also the problem of academic dishonesty inherent within the examination system. The Board did not "throw the baby out with the bath water" but conveniently placed "the baby and the dirty bath water" on the doorstep of the school.
The BSSS acted on the problem in February 1941 following concern expressed by Brother Gerard, the Catholic representative on the Board. He continually argued for the maintenance of external examinations throughout his long association with the Board. He formed an alliance with the atheist Professor John Anderson late in his term on the Board to fight a rearguard action against the removal of external examinations. He successfully moved that only cases in which mathematical error had occurred in marking should a change of mark be granted. A Memorandum to Principals from the BSSS followed. It endeavoured to reduce the incidence of revision applications by reminding schools of the futility of the exercise. It reminded schools that of the 421 applications submitted from a total candidature of nearly eighteen thousand in 1940 only a mere 13 were successful (see Table 1). It continued; "this is not surprising to those who are acquainted with the methods adopted to deal with all borderline and special cases prior to the publication of the examination results" (BSSS, 20 June 1941). The memorandum contained the only admission the BSSS made regarding the fallibility of examinations during its existence: "Notwithstanding the care which is taken throughout the examination procedure, the Board realises that no system of examination is infallible and is therefore reluctant to withdraw the right which has been conceded for many years to submit applications for revision" (BSSS, 20 June 1941).
During the 1940s the BSSS, in an attempt to be fair in this matter, chose not to enforce Gerard's hardline proposal of February 1941. Nevertheless, it ensured that revisions were kept to a minimum. The incidence of appeals were a continual cause of concern to the Board. Each year the Secretary submitted a report showing the number of revision applications received and the number of successful candidates. Moreover, due to continual surges in appeal numbers a Memorandum to Principals on the problem was considered necessary every four or five years (see Memorandum to Chief Examiners: Intermediate Certificate Examination, 26 November 1936).
Each year a Board sub-committee watched for any significant changes in the number of revision applications and, in particular, an increase in the number of successful applicants in particular subjects. For example, when the 1944 report was presented in May 1945, the Board's attention was drawn to the large proportion of revision applications in IC physiology. The Secretary undertook to submit a statement on this aberration. It was decided to appoint a sub-committee again to consider the appeals problem (BSSS, 7 February 1946). It is surprising, therefore, that in the midst of these concerns a candidate at a small Seventh-day Adventist School was awarded an Intermediate Certificate after she gained a pass in four subjects, only one of which was externally examined, and forty-eight percent in compulsory English (BSSS, 1 March 1945).
The number of appeals again troubled Board members in 1945. During May 1946 school principals were reminded that re-marks were rarely successful and that schools should discourage applicants. This action was successful for the number of IC revision applications dropped from 1.6 percent of the total number of candidates in 1945 to 1.2 in 1946. However, the percentage of successful appeals almost doubled from 2.6 to 5.0 percent (see Table 1). The BSSS, like its predecessor, seemed to have an unnecessary phobia about revision applications. In fact, the percentage of those applying was extremely small and the percentage who were successful of the total number of candidates was virtually zero (for example in 1931 only one sixth of one percent).
After the IC became partly internal in 1944, additional problems regarding revision appeals arose. Principals began to object to the BSSS's decisions on IC awards. Previously parents and candidates were the appellants. Principals who recommended estimates of fifty percent and more for their candidates in various subjects expected them to pass in those particular subjects. The Board awarded failures to a number of these candidates. The Headmistress of the Sydney Church of England Grammar School for Girls wrote to the Board in February 1948 requesting that the Latin internal test papers from the school be re-marked. The pass mark had been fixed at 76 percent for Latin in the internal examinations and thus all her students failed. The Board decided that an Education Department representative would confer with the Headmistress, but that the papers were not to be reviewed (BSSS, 4 March 1948). If a pass mark better than that required normally for distinction was needed merely to pass an examination, it is little wonder that the BSSS received a spate of revision applications in 1948 and letters of deep concern from principals.
These complaints influenced Board members to introduce new procedures for the fully internal IC in 1949. First, it re-issued the 1936 Board of Examiners' Memorandum to Chief Examiners reminding them that remarks were to be given only to mathematical errors in the addition of marks (BSSS, 7 July, 8 August 1949; Memorandum to Chief Examiners: Intermediate Certificate Examination, 26 November 1936). Furthermore, schools were informed that applications for revision of external papers would be made to the BSSS through the principal. The Board did not trust the schools, believing they would buckle under student or parental pressure, issue too many revised passes and thereby cause a flood of requests and a loss of public confidence in both the external and internal examinations.
|Year||Total Candidates||No. of Applicants|
|Applicants as %|
|No. of successful|
|% of successful|
The introduction of accreditation in 1949 was followed by a dramatic fall in the number of revision applications. From a peak of 339 in 1945 the number dropped to 82 in 1949, though the percentage of those successful remained high at 4.8 percent (see Table 1). The BSSS endeavoured to ensure that the assessment procedures of the internal examinations were held in high esteem by the public. In 1951, for example, only two out of fourteen applicants from approved schools gained a change in one subject. This represented only two changes in approximately ninety eight subjects (BSSS, 28 February 1951; 18 February 1952).
The Board's continual concern was to keep the number of applicants to a minimum and to ensure that the number of successful applicants was kept at an absolute minimum. On the first count the Board was extremely successful with a mere one to two percent of the total number of candidates making application in only one or two subjects. On the second point it was less successful. When the IC became fully internal in 1949, the number of successes rose to a figure that would have caused alarm in earlier years. It rose from an average success rate of 3.5 percent pre-1949 to more than double (8 percent) post-1949, with a high of 9.1 percent in 1950 (see Table I). This high success rate caused concern to principals. The Board was not only reassessing external examination papers but also internal papers and in some instances changing the recommendations of principals. On the other hand candidates and their parents who gained passes due to re-marks, were delighted with the continual weakening of the Board's campaign against successful appeals.
The Board found itself in a dilemma after the introduction of the fully internally assessed Intermediate Certificate in 1949. Pass rates had been increasing steadily and there were significant gains after 1949 (see Table 2). School estimates of the ability of internal candidates were overgenerous and schools were informed that their supposed successful candidates were in fact failures (cf., BSSS, 7 March 1946; 5 February 1953). Moreover, while high pass rates meant fewer appeals, the percentage of successful appeals doubled. Public confidence in the examination system decreased as the number of successful appeals became known. The community seemingly did not want an examination system that was fallible. The IC was being debased in the eyes of the community. These factors led to moves from within the Board for the abolition of the Intermediate. It was considered to be worthless even by those who for two decades had not supported its reform (BSSS, 5 April 1951).
|Source: Adapted from Official Year Book of New South Wales (1945-1955)|
During the War years a slight softening of the Board's stance began to emerge. At the January 1940 Executive meeting the papers of candidates who were given special privileges due to sickness were discussed. At one school, due to the carelessness of a Principal, pupils who were unwell had been allowed to sit their examinations in their own homes. The committee while rejecting the papers (one of which was compulsory English) took the view that "the candidates should not be disadvantaged by the action of the teacher and granted a pass in the subjects and in the examinations as a whole in each case" (BSSS, 19 January 1940). Other cases, similar to the above, were discussed and rejected by the committee if the rejection made no difference to the candidates' success or failure in the examination as a whole.
In spite of this reasonableness the Board wished to display a strong front. It became troubled that the publication of some of its decisions had caused an extension of the privilege in certain directions. The 1941 examination attracted an unusually high number of special requests for arrangements due to sickness. The Board recommended that the practice set down by the Board of Examiners in 1936 and endorsed by the BSSS was a reasonable working base. It was only necessary, the Board believed, to restate the position and to amplify the directions to the officials concerned (BSSS, 19 January 1940).
The procedures for handling sickness cases became complicated with the introduction of the partly internal IC in 1944. The Board softened its stance. It began to grant a pass to those candidates who sat for two of the three external subjects, but did not attend the third due to sickness. Those candidates who missed compulsory English or who only attended one external examination were issued with a statement of results. Principals were requested to supply school estimates for candidates who missed internal examinations and these were used to determine whether a pass or fail was granted (BSSS, 22 January 1945).
By the end of the War the Executive of the Board began to rubber stamp the applications for special provisions owing to sickness (BSSS, 21 January 1946; 17 January 1947). No difficult cases were debated, possibly due to the fact that only half the number of external papers were attempted and absenteeism in internal examinations was handled by the schools. Other factors were also pressing upon Board members to cause them to virtually abandon the monitoring of arrangements for the sick. The disruptions during the War caused difficulties for those responsible for the administration of public examinations. Checking the arrangements for those temporarily unfit to sit exams in the appointed centres became an added burden which members did not have the time or energy to monitor.
After the introduction of the first fully internal IC examinations in 1949, new procedures were followed for sickness cases. The major change was that the use of school estimates became even more critical in the Board's decisions. Candidates with absences in the internal examinations were failed or passed depending upon their school estimates. This rule was followed even if it involved one or all internal papers.
A survey of the handling of sickness cases indicates that the BSSS applied the spirit rather than the letter of the rules. They were able to maintain the fine balance between, on the one hand, refusing to allow a candidate to be disadvantaged by a teacher's breach of the rules and, on the other hand, refusing passes to candidates who abused the system. As the IC became increasingly internal the Board depended to a greater degree on advice from schools; in particular the recommendations of principals and later school estimates. Also, as the number of lower ability candidates increased, particularly after the introduction of the completely internal IC, Board members became aware that these lower ability candidates were the majority of those needing special considerations due to sickness (BSSS, 15 January 1952; 13 January 1953). The BSSS was therefore forced to take a more realistic approach to the problem of examination absenteeism due to the increase in the number of candidates and its inability to judge the validity of sickness cases in internal examinations without the assistance of school personnel. The increase of sickness cases and the difficulty of their assessment was instrumental in convincing the BSSS of the need increasingly to pass the responsibilities of the administration of the IC examination to schools.
Criticisms from educators, teachers, parents and community groups led Board members to believe that community distrust of external examinations was growing. Regardless of how conscientiously they applied the procedures regarding revisions, sickness and malpractice, the Board members could not stop the tide of public opinion against external examinations. The very rules and regulations they so zealously guarded became reasons in the minds of many to justify the movement of IC assessments and administration to the responsibility of those closest to children and their particular assessment problems.
The Board members were partly incapable of understanding the issues from the viewpoint of the candidates. One contemporary critic believed that this fact was central to the inability of the schools to remove assessment from the stranglehold of the Board. He claimed that:
the range and content of a secondary school child's mind in New South Wales, and hence the standard of values of the post-war generation, is determined by the deliberations of a body known as the Board of Secondary School Studies. Doubtless the members of this Board take their colossal responsibilities very seriously though I suspect that some of them are about as familiar with school children as I am with the various species of beetles. The Board's effect is abundantly clear, however ... the teacher is in constant anxiety about examination passes, and the child becomes convinced that the seven deadly sins at school are: originality, resourcefulness, skepticism, critical judgement, non-conformity, lack of deference to those in authority and wanting to know more than is in the syllabus (Ashby, 1946, pp. 4-5).The most significant effect on the Board of Secondary School Studies' entanglement with Intermediate Certificate administrative matters was that the innovative drive of the members dissipated. As noted above, the Board was forced increasingly to withdraw to the world of minutiae. By the 1950s its interest in reform virtually disappeared. In 1953, the new Board Chairman, Harold Wyndham experienced difficulty inspiring members to submit a proposal to the Committee appointed to survey New South Wales secondary education. The Board had been established in 1937 to submit to the Minister an extensive examination reform plan. By 1953 the only reform that had been accomplished was with respect to the IC; an examination which legally was not under its control.
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|Author: Dr John Godfrey is a Senior Lecturer in educational measurement and evaluation in the Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Perth. He holds a PhD from the University of Newcastle. He has published in reading comprehension testing, academic dishonesty, assessment in religious schools, the history of Australian assessment change, Indigenous education and teacher receptivity to change. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Godfrey, J. R. (2002). Academic dishonesty in schools: The Intermediate Certificate policies of the Board of Secondary School Studies 1937-1957. Issues In Educational Research, 12(1), 19-34. http://www.iier.org.au/iier12/godfrey.html