Passing scores by Air Force Academy cadets on an online math test in April didn’t rouse suspicions by academy officials of cheating.
But dozens of failed calculus exams later administered on paper did.
Poor scores on a final exam given in early May led Air Force Academy officials to suspect 78 cadets used unauthorized help on the earlier online test, according to Lt. Col. John Bryan, an Air Force Academy spokesman. All but four of the cadets have admitted to cheating, Bryan said.
Academy officials suspect the cadets cheated on the Fundamental Skills Exam, an online calculus test given April 19 and 20 to about 650 cadets.
The cadets are suspected of using an online math program called Wolfram Alpha, which markets itself as a “computational knowledge engine.” The system can offer answers to math questions similar to the way Google searches for websites based on a few words.
Cadets are allowed to use the program for help with homework, Bryan said. During the exam, though, cadets were told not to use any outside resources besides a pencil and scratch paper.
Many of the questions on the 20-question online test were featured on the final exam, which was administered on paper, he said.
“So many of them failed the final and one of the professors said ‘Hey this doesn’t sound right,” Bryan said.
The academy originally suspected 95 cadets cheated on the exam, but 17 were quickly cleared, he said.
On Thursday, Bryan said the academy’s honor system is designed to help cadets learn from their mistakes by having them answer to older cadets.
He also said the academy plans to give the calculus Fundamental Skills Exam on paper, rather than online.
“You have a lot invested in them in the first place,” Bryan said. “You have a lot invested in them already. They’re not perfect robots. That’s why this is a four-year leadership and development program.”
Most of the cadets who cheated were given a six-month probationary period, though some have yet to be disciplined. In this case, cadets found to be lying — as well as sophomores found to be cheating — could face harsher penalties, such as disenrollment, Bryan said.
Most of the cadets suspected of cheating were freshmen, with the rest being sophomores.
The Honor Code, adopted in 1956 by the first graduating class (1959), represents a "minimum standard of conduct" and says cadets "will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does." The academy's honor directorate states that each cadet is "expected to report themselves for any violation."
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