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Schools see cellphone cheating

A high-tech trend has put local school and state officials on high alert: students using cellphones to cheat on tests.

The digital industry's latest features -- such as instant text messaging, email, and Internet access -- have proven troublesome for teachers. Some educators say that students have been using the features to look up and send test answers to their friends or even take photographs of exams for future use.

''I can understand why they would want to get rid of phones, but for some students, it's the only way they can pass," April Gordon, a senior from Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, said with a giggle. ''A lot of students were using them during finals."

Concern about high-tech cheating has prompted state education officials to consider banning the use of cellphones during the MCAS exam, a graduation requirement for 10th graders.

''It's not a situation that we've run into with MCAS, but we do know that nationally this has become an issue," said Heidi Perlman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

The department is considering amending test guidelines to prohibit cellphones, she said.

''It's unclear if they are going to be taken away or just turned off during testing," said Perlman, adding that the new measure would be in place before the July retest.

In Boston, cellphones are already banned from classrooms, said school system spokesman Jonathan Palumbo.

''We have not heard a lot about cyber-cheating in our schools," said Palumbo. ''But if the state does set a regulation, we will add that to our checklist to make sure it's enforced."

Cellphones and pagers are also banned from Braintree schools, said school officials. In Brockton, students may have cellphones, but they must be turned off during classes, said district spokeswoman Jocelyn Meek.

Other South Shore school systems are considering similar policies, while, at the opposite end of the state, Springfield school leaders are one step ahead. During MCAS exams last summer, students were required to leave their phones at a particular location away from their reach, said Springfield Superintendent Joseph P. Burke.

''We labeled them, and we had students pick them up after the test," Burke said.

During school, he added, students must register their cellphones with school administrators and they also must have permission from their parents to carry them.

Cellphone cheating is not just a problem in this country. In Shanghai more than 20 high school students suspected of using cellphone text messages to cheat on a university admissions exam were arrested, the Chinese newspaper Beijing Youth Daily reported Monday.

Still, Boston students say that high-tech cheating is not as widespread as school officials may think.

''Not everyone uses their phones to cheat," Madison Park senior Jadirah Ortiz said as she stuffed her credit card-sized cell in her pocket. ''Instead of banning cellphones, they need to have better monitoring in class."

''We need them," added her classmate, Tanisha Brown. ''There could be an emergency. We've got girls here who have kids. We got people here who take care of people at home. For a lot of people, it's their parents who give them cellphones in the first place."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

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