That Time I…. was suspected of cheating on a reading quiz


Columnist Lloyd joined after-school reading programs when he was was in third grade.

As a former 90s kid, current 20-year-olds might think I came out of an archaeological dig. Why were we so obsessed with slap bracelets (and why were they banned from school, for that matter)? Why spend so much of our meager allowances on cardboard circles called Pogs? Not even I can answer these kinds of questions, other than offer “it was the 90s.”

But the trend that sticks to my memory the most are the after-school reading programs. 

In retrospect, I don’t think the adults around me had any idea what they were getting themselves into. These reading programs were designed to get the normal kids to read more books, not fuel the addiction of a poor kid who thought the library was Disneyland. I got so much free stuff from reading, that additional shelving had to be added to my bedroom and ate so much free pizza I was sick of it for the rest of the year.

In seventh grade, the unsuspecting teachers and staff at my middle school had come up with a new reading program of their own. The way it worked was simple. Kids read a book, took a quiz on its plot and themes on one of the computers in the school library and were awarded several points. The number of points was different for every book, going up as the reading level increased. Those points were then used to buy prizes. At 36, I don’t remember what prize I wanted, but that doesn’t matter. All I know was that I wanted it.

I found the books that had the most points in the library – all adult-level novels – and I got to reading.

I had just finished “The Hunt for Red October” and sat down to take another test. One of the library aides sat down next to me.

She said, “Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m just going to watch you, okay?” 

“Okay,” I responded.

I didn’t think much of it at the time and just signed into the quiz like usual. I didn’t look at the book once and aced it – 90% score. I had around 80,000 points total by then, the recent quiz included.

Sarah stared at my login screen for longer than she probably needed to. “Good job,” she finally muttered and went back to the front desk. 

For a long time, this interaction was a confusing one. It wasn’t until years later in high school that I realized why Sarah the library aide had insisted on watching me take that quiz. I had so many points saved up from so many adult-level books that they had to have assumed I was cheating

Despite it being so long after the incident, my first reaction was anger. Of course I wasn’t cheating, why would they assume I did? But now every time I think of  Sarah convinced she was going to catch a 12-year-old cheating on their perfectly balanced and not at all exploitable reading program, and can’t help but find amusement. When it was clear that I wasn’t cheating, after all, it must have been a massive shock.

That also might have been why every book in the library had its point reward reduced significantly by the next semester.