April 29, 2004 -- Cheating in American high schools is widespread if not endemic. And it usually works.
That's the report card from American teenagers. In an exclusive ABCNEWS Primetime poll of 12- to 17-year-olds, seven in 10 say at least some kids in their school cheat on tests. Six in 10 have friends who've cheated. About one in three say they themselves have cheated, rising to 43 percent of older teens. And most say cheaters don't get caught.
That doesn't make it right in most students' eyes: Nearly all teens in this national, random-sample survey say cheating's wrong. Most who admit to cheating say it was a rare thing. And fewer than three in 10 say "most" or "a lot" of kids in their school cheat; 44 percent say it's just "some."
Still, though, 12 percent — nearly one in eight — say "most" kids in their school cheat on tests.
This poll was conducted to support an ABCNEWS Primetime special on cheating in school that airs Thursday, April 29, at 10 p.m. ET.
Who's more likely to cheat? The crowd teens hang out with is one factor: Those with friends who've cheated are more apt to be tempted, and actually to cheat, themselves.
Age is another. Older teens are more apt than younger ones to say a lot of kids at their school cheat, to have friends that cheat and to say they've been tempted to cheat. Among 12- to 14-year-olds, 23 percent admit cheating; that rises to 36 percent of kids age 15-17, and, as noted, peaks at 43 percent of those age 16-17.
Communication on the issue is in short supply: Just one-third of kids say they and their parents have had a serious talk about cheating in school. But it's not clear that it helps: Kids who have spoken about it with their parents are no less likely to have cheated, or been tempted to cheat, as those who haven't.
Still, those who are the most likely to say they've cheated — kids age 16-17 — are the least likely to say they've talked about the issue with their parents. Just 27 percent say they've done so, compared with 41 percent of 12- to 13-year-olds.
Kids do know right from wrong on cheating. Only 8 percent believe that in order to get ahead in life, you have to cheat from time to time; 90 percent, instead, say cheaters will lose out in the long run. And 96 percent say their parents would rather have them do their own best work, regardless of the grade, than get good grades if it means cheating.
Rather than a talk, greater risk and better teacher involvement could serve as deterrents. A third of kids say they'd be more likely to cheat if they knew they'd never get caught; this suggests that better enforcement could help curb the practice.
In a seemingly related result, almost as many teens, nearly three in 10, say they'd be more likely to cheat if they had a teacher who didn't seem to care about their work. Teachers who develop student loyalty — as well as those who guard against cheating — also may be better-equipped to prevent it.
Grade pressure seems less a consideration. Fewer, 14 percent, say they'd be more apt to cheat if they thought other students were cheating and by being honest they'd get a lower grade. About as many, 16 percent, say they'd be more apt to cheat in a class they thought didn't matter as far as their future.
This ABCNEWS Primetime poll was conducted by telephone Feb. 4-8, among a random national sample of 504 12- to 17-year-olds. The results have a 4.5-point error margin. Field work was done by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.
Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault.