The College Board’s announcement to digitalize the SAT made major news headlines across the United States earlier this year. While standardized college entrance exams are undergoing changes and modernization, the assessments that college and university students take while in school are also in desperate need of an overhaul.
Many academic institutions across the country are overly reliant on pre-made test banks and outsourced homework questions that have risen in prominence due largely to the major publishing companies. Given the expansive use of these prepared test questions by college professors, it is fair to wonder if publishers share some of the responsibility for the recent cheating trends.
For example, Pearson Education, a British-owned education publishing and assessment service and the leading player in the United States’ higher education courseware market, creates and publishes textbooks that contain hundreds or even thousands of end-of-chapter practice questions. Pearson and other publishers also offer instructors who “assign” their books to students sets of pre-packaged exam questions so that these instructors don’t have to write their own.
And these publishers make big money through these deals and at the students’ expense: the higher education publishing industry generated an estimated $3.1 billion in revenues in 2020. These high-priced textbooks are often more than students can afford, but they have to purchase them regardless to succeed in the classroom, which has further exacerbated the student loan crisis.
And as is often the case with shortcuts, there is a catch to using these pre-made tests and homework questions. With college and university professors across the country using the same outsourced, pre-made assessment material provided by publishers for their courses, the answers to which students can easily share online, this system has created an environment that promotes cheating.
If a student needs an answer, a quick Google search allows them to 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 readily found online by these students from multiple sources.
This has caused faculty members and administrators at many colleges and universities to express their frustration with the availability of homework and test answers online. This frustration has grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with the expansion of remote learning, which has allowed college students to access these answers more freely during remote exams.
Unfortunately, faculty and administrators too often blame their students or these online learning platforms. However, more attention should be placed on the current shortcuts in 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 easy for students to do so. To truly address the current issues surrounding academic integrity, we need to ask: What role do publishers play in exacerbating cheating for their profits?