Do Honor Codes Really Work?

by Dr. Rebecca Beach ’97, Upper School English Teacher

Do Honor Codes Really Work? Yes, they do.  They help schools to instill academic integrity and they work to create an atmosphere of trust.  

Research has shown that honor codes have significantly cut down instances of cheating, plagiarism, and stealing in schools. For example, The Center for Academic Integrity found that only 23% of students at colleges with honor codes reported one or more incidents of serious cheating on an exam, while the number increased to 45% at colleges without an honor code(1  This significant jump in numbers reflects the fact that campuses with honor codes successfully teach students to value their own work and respect the work of others.

I’ve seen this same positive shift first-hand at our school since we adopted an honor code in the fall of 2017.  The Honor Code, in its most basic form, says: “On my honor, I have neither given nor received aid on this work.”

The importance of an honor code can be reiterated through the following:

1) visual signs of it in on plaques in all Intermediate and Upper School classrooms,

2) weekly assessments that ask students to sign their name beside the code

3) an annual ceremony that asks each incoming student in Upper School to sign their name to the honor pledge book

4) honor council hearings for those students who may have violated the code 

These are tangible reminders of our school’s honor code that help to guide students as they complete coursework and interact with others. 

But the real evidence of honor among students, I believe, occurs in more inconspicuous moments.  When a student asks a classmate to copy her homework assignment and she refuses: that’s honor.  When a student deliberately puts away a cell phone and an Apple watch before a major test: that’s honor.  When a student seeks out help to make sure he is correctly citing an outside source in his essay: that’s honor. When a teacher talks to his students about the value of not cheating: that’s honor.  When students help each other to study for an assessment without giving away answers: that’s honor.  When students working in a group give a detailed account of who participated and contributed to their project: that’s honor.  

I see honor among my students every day.  It’s a powerful practice that demonstrates the importance of self-respect and respect to others.  Without respect and honor, knowledge loses its vital force. For no vast quantity of knowledge can be worth much of anything if it is acquired, used, communicated, or disseminated without honor and integrity.   These are lessons in character for students to learn early in their academic careers and to hold to tightly, far beyond graduation.  

Begin Your Journey.