The College Council announcement to digitize the SAT made headlines across the United States earlier this year. As standardized college entrance exams undergo change and modernization, the assessments that college and university students take while studying are also in desperate need of an overhaul.
Many academic institutions across the country are over-reliant on pre-designed test banks and outsourced assignment questions that have risen to prominence largely thanks to major publishing houses. Given the widespread use of these test questions prepared by college professors, it’s fair to wonder if publishers share some of the blame for recent cheating trends.
For example, Pearson Education, a UK educational publishing and assessment service and the largest player in the US higher education courseware market, creates and publishes textbooks containing hundreds or even thousands of end-of-chapter practice questions. Pearson and other publishers also offer instructors who “assign” their books to students pre-packaged sets of exam questions so that those instructors don’t have to write their own.
And these publishers are making a lot of money from these deals and at the expense of students: the higher education publishing industry has generated about $3.1 billion income in 2020. These expensive textbooks are often more than students can afford, but they must buy them anyway to succeed in the classroom, which has further exacerbated the student loan crisis.
And as is often the case with shortcuts, there’s a catch to using these pre-made tests and homework questions. With faculty at colleges and universities across the country using the same outsourced, pre-made assessment materials provided by publishers for their courses, responses that students can easily share online, this system has created an environment that fosters cheating.
If a student needs an answer, a quick Google search will find many of these questions and their answers on various websites and forums, ranging from Reddit to YouTube.
Obviously, this means that when the same test bank questions are used for exams, the answers can be easily found online by those students from multiple sources.
This has caused faculty members and administrators at many colleges and universities to express frustration with the availability of assignments and test answers online. This frustration has increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with the expansion of remote learning, which has allowed students to more freely access these answers during remote exams.
Unfortunately, professors and administrators too often blame their students or these online learning platforms. However, more attention should be paid to current shortcuts when creating these tests and homework questions.
While cheating is certainly never acceptable, especially in higher education, the current system that major textbook publishing companies have cultivated makes it easier for students. To truly address the current issues surrounding academic integrity, we need to ask ourselves: what role do publishers play in exacerbating cheating for profit?