Still, schools are sometimes reluctant to bring cheaters to justice. One reason is the federal government's No Child Left Behind policy, which penalizes schools whose students consistently perform poorly on standardized tests by forcing them to close or replace staff. Administrators and teachers also know that accusing students will prompt meetings with angry parents and, even worse, costly lawyers. "Catching cheaters involves a lot of time and hassle," says Gregory Cizek, Ph.D., an educational measurement professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Detecting and Preventing Classroom Cheating (Corwin Press). "And if it goes to the courts, it may take years to resolve."
For the guilty who are caught, the consequences are often so minor that they don't serve as a deterrent. When 118 seniors at Bardstown High School in Kentucky admitted they had copied content from the Internet in 2002, their punishment was simply to take an ethics seminar, write about plagiarism and help clean the campus.