More than a quarter of the senior class at Bardstown High School in Kentucky lifted text verbatim from the internet and used it without attribution in writing portfolios, administrators and teachers discovered in May.

Among those who used short stories or text pulled from web sites were one of three valedictorians, nine members of the National Honor Society, and relatives of school board members.

Parents and administrators were stunned, but a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey said such cheating illustrates a widespread national problem.

Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey who surveyed 4,500 students at 25 high schools last year, said more than half of those surveyed acknowledged downloading a paper from the internet or copying text from the web without proper attribution.

“The surprise for me is just how easily students dismiss cheating,” he said. “They think it’s just not a big deal.”

Administrators and teachers at Bardstown High discovered that 34 of 118 seniors culled sentences, paragraphs, and other text verbatim from web sites and used them in their writing portfolios, part of the statewide testing system known as CATS.

The school launched an investigation after two seniors turned in the same short stories, copied from the same web site, for their portfolios, principal Tom Hamilton said.

Parents and administrators agree with McCabe that it highlights the relative ease with which students can copy work from the internet.

“It surprised all of us,” said Robert Smotherman, superintendent of Bardstown Independent Schools. “I guess as we look back there’s a lot of powerful things out there that make this sort of cheating much easier to do and much more tempting. … I think all our schools need to take a close look at what’s going on.”

All 34 students caught cheating at Bardstown were allowed to graduate, pending completion of a punishment set by the school’s decision-making council.

The students had to rewrite the essays but received no credit for the work, Hamilton said. They also had to write an essay reflecting on their plagiarism, participate in a 12-hour ethics seminar, and help clean the school.