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This evening, my senior in high school daughter came home upset because of a bad score on a test in an AP class. The particular questions were extremely esoteric Bloom level 1 questions (e.g., how many books did character X read during the story; clearly somewhere in the book, but just recall, not analysis).

She asked the teacher to please explain the relevance of the question to understanding the story. The teacher answered she didn't know, she just copied the questions from the internet.

At this point, I was pretty livid, and wanted to immediately go to the principal/school board to complain about this individual. If a student "just copied" from the internet (without attribution, and even then a straight copy without further change would be a fair stretch), it would legitimately be plagiarism. But am I out of line believing that a teacher who just copied questions from the 'net -- especially without being able to explain why the questions actually matter -- is just as guilty? I fully understand there are only so many ways to ask, e.g., about a whale in Moby Dick, but this issue isn't about a major character's name.

My wife didn't think it was worth pursuing the issue, as the particular quiz will not significantly affect the final grade. But I remain skeptical that copy/paste by an academic leader is ethical.

What guidelines are there to help ascertain what should be an appropriate response? Am I just wrong to believe there is an unacceptable double-standard here?

  • Please read the question: Is it acceptable for paid online course to use quizzes and materials from elsewhere on the internet? and other related questions. – scaaahu Nov 22 '18 at 7:27
  • Also, high school teaching is off-topic on this site. – scaaahu Nov 22 '18 at 7:28
  • Note that the folks responsible for the AP system produce sample questions specifically for this purpose, so it isn't really plagiarism. The questions are designed to shadow the actual AP exam questions. Sadly, some AP teachers are unprepared to teach the course, but are assigned to do so by their school systems. Some have no computing experience at all when such an assignment is made. – Buffy Nov 22 '18 at 11:38
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    If that teacher is paid to teach that course, then she should understand it and be able to complete ANY question she sets the students... – Solar Mike Nov 22 '18 at 13:10
  • I apologize for the off-topic nature, though I note one of the linked questions is also about high school :) – KevinO Nov 22 '18 at 14:01
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Not aware of any guidelines for parents to assess teacher misconduct (and not sure this is the right SE in any case), so will focus on the second part of your question. Not a copyright expert, just a researcher.

Am I just wrong to believe there is an unacceptable double-standard here?

Maybe a little bit. Recall that copyright serves two purposes:

  • To give credit to the person who did the original work.

    • Note that in some cases, "credit" is not enough (e.g., if I want to reproduce sheet music, I usually have to pay for it)
    • In other cases (like the classroom), educational fair use applies, and even "credit" is not legally required so long as the other requirements are met.
  • To avoid misrepresenting one's own knowledge/work -- i.e., a student passing off an adult's work as their own for a high grade, or a researcher stealing someone else's idea for a nice publication

As I hinted above, giving attribution is not required under fair use in the classroom (and only the copyright holder would have standing on these grounds). And it's hard to argue that the teacher is putting forth the quiz as her own work in the way that a student or researcher would; she just wanted to assess who had done the reading and didn't see the need to reinvent the wheel.

So, I think it's hard to argue that this is a "smoking gun." That said, certainly I think the teacher should have cited it, if only to set a good example.

But am I out of line believing that a teacher who just copied questions from the 'net -- especially without being able to explain why the questions actually matter -- is just as guilty?

I suspect that the real issue isn't the plagiarism, it's that the teacher is terrible. If this were a wonderful teacher who had plagiarized a fine quiz, I doubt you would be so concerned. I share your concerns; from the brief information presented here, she seems incompetent at best. But I don't think the fact that she ripped this quiz off the net is a "smoking gun" you can use to have her removed.

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    +1 The point is not the plagiarism vs. non-plagiarism, but the fact that the teacher used a question that they didn't understand themselves for the test. – Captain Emacs Nov 22 '18 at 9:32
  • To add to the last sentence (and to paraphrase the Stack Overflow homework help guidelines), the smoking gun is that the teacher ripped the quiz off the internet without understanding the purpose of the questions. – HAEM Nov 22 '18 at 9:56

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