APS launches review of grade changes over last three years. How common is the practice?

I shared a statement last week from Atlanta Public Schools on the documented grade changing incidents at three APS high schools, Carver School of Technology, South Atlanta High School of Law & Justice and Booker T. Washington High School.

At that time, APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said, “APS takes seriously any improper grade changing or alleged retaliation on employees who seek to do the right thing in our schools. We are tackling unethical behavior, making employees accountable, and promoting a safe environment for employees to report allegations of dishonorable actions by other employees. It is important for our stakeholders to know that APS is undergoing a culture change.”

failingNow, Carstarphen has followed up her public statement with a letter to APS employees announcing she is launching a larger review of grade changing going back three years.

She wrote:

Colleagues:

As you may be aware, Atlanta Public Schools has come under renewed scrutiny because of investigations we have completed this year involving inappropriate grade changing at some of our schools.

This year, our Employee Relations team has completed eight separate investigations (four were cases involving grade changes in previous years), which has led me to ask questions about how big of a problem this might be.

To answer these questions, I have directed the Office of Accountability to review all existing data to determine how extensive grade changes have been over the past three years within APS. The review will reveal the prevalence of grade changing, the most common reasons for them and whether the changes were appropriate.

In addition, Chief Accountability Officer Bill Caritj and a team of APS leaders will review current policies and procedures in order to recommend process improvements and procedural safeguards before the start of the new school year.

As public educators, we work in a fishbowl of constant examination. We often bear the brunt of criticism, seldom the warm feelings of praise. For those who do their jobs well every school day of every school year, you have my sincere gratitude. But we must root out wrongdoings and deal with it appropriately.  As I have stated many times, unethical behavior in APS of any type will not be tolerated, and those engaged in such activity have no place in our school system.

I will note, too, that our investigations to date have been detailed and deliberate. Should new situations emerge, we will adhere to the highest practices of due process since we are not only dealing with the future of our students but the careers and reputations of educators.

As always, I thank you for your service and maintain an open door to all of you. If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to let me know.

Regards,

Meria

I have had several discussions with teachers on the prevalence of grade changing. While many people on the blog cited grade changing within APS high schools as testimony to the failure of public education, teachers told me they faced more pressure to alter grades when they taught at private schools because, as one educator said, “Parents are not spending $20,000 a year for D’s.”

Some teachers said they were not pressured to change grades, but were told they had to give students multiple opportunities to raise their grades by allowing them to take retests, make up in missing work or do extra credit.

Indeed, the AJC reported that the Atlanta school board approved a policy this year that “requires teachers to reteach and retest students who are struggling — and bars them from grading students on classroom behavior or whether they turn in work on time.”

As one teacher said, “All that is a form of cheating to me because it cheats my students who did the work right the first time and studied hard and did well on the tests.”

It is not simply that schools give kids a chance to raise failing grades in the last few weeks of school; they also provide them with opportunities to turn B’s into A’s. Some teachers told me the HOPE Scholarship has created more pressure to nudge C’s to B’s and B’s to A’s, especially in suburban districts where parents are anxious for their teens to qualify for UGA or Tech.

Are these last-minute reprieves and 11th hour chances at redemption a form of cheating? Are they fair to the kids who did the readings, wrote the essays and earned A’s on the exams?

Or, are they part a shift in education where the goal is not failing kids but teaching them — even if that means cutting them slack and treating deadlines as pliable?

What do you think?

 

 

Reader Comments 0

91 comments
NewName
NewName

Just a hint for anyone in charge of hiring or admissions -  If they don't have an 85 or above, I wouldn't trust that they know the information or deserved to pass.


And please keep in mind the magical extra points for passing an AP class, where a 70 gets you  a 77, but a 69 in the class is still a 69 (as if we're able to assign that grade). 68s and 69s often get bumped to 70s.


jerryeads
jerryeads

Maureen, this is the first - other than one sentence the other day at the very end of a print article - that addresses the pressures on school administrators (and hence teachers) to change grades. Please ask your colleagues on the ed beat to report on WHY school staff are changing grades. It may well be that the pressures (if not the responses to them) are legitimate, but readers need to have the opportunity to understand WHY (rightly or wrongly) school staff are changing grades.

Haven't met Meria, likely never will, but so far the data suggest she's a good one, but she has a tall order to turn around the cultural disaster wrought by her sociopath predecessor and that one's evil henchpersons.

popacorn
popacorn

Parents: View this as a golden opportunity! Tell your kids that the competition is dropping by the wayside and into deep ditches. Tell 'em to hang in there and keep working hard because the majority of their cohorts, who can't construct a simple sentence, will be competing for jobs/colleges etc on a much, much lower level. 

Nerds: have patience, your day will come. In the blink of an eye the 'cool' kids will be mowing your lawn and your only interaction will be to say: 'You missed a spot.' 

Astropig
Astropig

@popacorn



As long as cars and dishes get dirty, "cool kids" will always be employable.

PJ25
PJ25

When kids are graduating HS who can't read or write, obviously there's a lot of grade changing. 

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

Two words... Balanced Scorecard and Targets.  Well, three words.  From Harvard.  Hall started using the BS and targets to motivate people and hold them accountable.  She motivated them, alright -- right into cheating.  Carstarphen has picked right up using the BS choked full of targets where Hall left off.  Sadly, like Hall, Carstarphen behaves as to  believe the root of cheating and other unethical behavior lies out there with lowly teachers and schoolhouse administrators rather than with the APS superintendency. 

AtlantaMom
AtlantaMom

@EdJohnson I attended two public meetings in which Carstarphen was questioned by parents.  In both cases she lost it.  It was unbelievable.  Professional in not the word that comes to mind when I think of her.

AtlantaMom
AtlantaMom

@Astropig @AtlantaMom @EdJohnson Rude, angry and absolutely unhappy that parents expected to participate in discussions about overcrowding and what to do about it.  She wants to rule from downtown and her minions to bow when she passes among them

brandonmom
brandonmom

@AtlantaMom @Astropig @EdJohnson My experience has been very different. I have been to at least a half dozen meetings with Carstarphen and various members of our cluster and have found her to be professional and receptive to parent opinion. In one very concrete example, she was doubtful that the new 6th grade center at Sutton was the best answer to our overcrowding issues, but she respected that the community had already voted for it and allowed it to continue as planned. 

popacorn
popacorn

Sadly, the investigators should assume that there is cheating in every single APS school. Eliminate the ones that can prove otherwise. Perhaps the magnitude of the malfeasance will inspire some to at least consider WHY cheating is mandatory, required procedure in so many schools. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I'm retired now, but when teaching at my University I always got some freshmen who couldn't believe it when I told them: no rewrites or retesting for better grades! Grades docked for late papers! No extra-credit work if they failed an assignment the first time! Class attendance required, and after 6 absences I'd withdraw them from the course!  I was amused by their expressions of shock, and understand now why they expected this.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

@OriginalProf Alas, it is how they were raised.  At our local public high school, students are able to retake any test for any reason and get the higher of the 2 (original administration and retest) grades: to me this is a catastrophic policy masquerading as compassion.

As for attendance in college classes - back when I attended Georgia Tech (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) 99.9% of professors were utterly indifferent as to whether or not you attended class.  Typically, 4 tests, a midterm, and a final and THAT was your grade; no do-overs, no extra credit, no nothing, show up for class or not, no skin off their noses either way...

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

@bu2 I attended grad school (MAT) elsewhere and was kinda surprised to find that ALL my classes had strict attendance policies.  I guess it varies by school, and maybe by major.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@bu2 @AlreadySheared @OriginalProf 

Perhaps. But it makes the class meetings a lot more engaging (from the teacher's point of view at least) when most of the class is there. When students miss a lot of classes and get behind, they can drag down the rest of the class with their elementary questions. It can be demoralizing for everyone when, out of a class of 35, only 10 show up. Nearly all of my colleagues had some sort of attendance policy. We did not teach STEM (or Education) courses.


Students seemed to change around 10 years ago....they stopped doing all of their assigned outside reading, too. Pop reading quizzes began to be given...I think, bu2 and BurrroughstonBroch (and maybe AlreadySheared) that you'd be rather appalled by the changes in student behavior from the time when you were in college. I myself think many of the changes came first in the K-12 schools, and then spread to the colleges.


BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

@AlreadySheared @OriginalProf  I attended Tech in the 1960s and my experience was the same as yours, with one exception. A course required for graduating EEs was taught Spring quarter by a professor on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 8AM. He told the students that, by God, if he had to be in class on Saturdays then they had to be in class - no Saturday cuts. A couple of students with high GPAs cut on a Saturday, he gave them Fs, and they didn't graduate on time.

Responsibility is learned and earned.

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog


Yeah, Astrowife has seen some of this first hand. She's an engineer. Engineers work on big money projects that have pretty strict deadlines.Deadlines that,if unmet,can cost the unmeeters their jobs.She's been known to come home and yell some 3,4 and 5 letter words when it was getting down to crunch time and some younger team members had never really been pushed and made to meet work objectives on time.There have been times when it took 4-5 beers for me to calm down after hearing her vent.(She is, alas,an abstemious sort).

bu2
bu2

@OriginalProf @Astropig @BurroughstonBroch @AlreadySheared 


I had an English TA stand us up 3 times during the week at 8am.  That was pretty intolerable.  Eventually I learned you didn't need to take 8am classes.


And she got reamed on the end of course evaluation by everyone.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Imagine the ones who go to a job and find out it ain't like school...

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

In all my years of teaching I never had a principal question or change a grade. I did have a parent try to lie to get a grade changed--I was out for surgery and she told the school office that I had authorized a grade change for her son. The data person spoke to me first--she had been surprised by the woman's assertion--and I told her it had never happened.


My mom, a high school teacher years ago, was approached by the principal about changing a grade.  She refused, told him HE could change it--but he decided not to.  Teachers had more authority back then, and that has sadly been stripped away.  He also tried to get her to "take back" a student who she had removed from her class because of his language toward her, but she refused, and the boy lost all credit for the class (she was the only one with credentials to teach that class).  Makes me wish for those good old days--the power to remove disruptive or profane students!

class80olddog
class80olddog

Be careful wishing for the good old days - the PC crowd will call you a troll.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

Her "good old days" were when the teacher had "the power to remove disruptive or profane students," not those days 55 years ago when schools spent less because they didn't have to educate immigrant, minority, and disabled students. Being a troll is posting the same inflammatory thing over and over that is factually corrected by other posters, without avail....evidently just to inflame.

thenoticer
thenoticer

Why bother having grades at all if policy renders them so meaningless? I know administrators are afraid of testing and rely on BS methods of showing "learning," but we need some standards. I suspect that this cheats students who most need to be held to a standard. I agree with class80olddog's private school parent demand for passing grades, but with high SAT scores that show they have been taught something. Meria, what shall we require of students? How will they be held accountable? That is the discussion that has to happen next. This business of tolerating laziness and lack of planning is doing nothing but hurting students and our communities. We are not teaching them to be worthwhile employees, citizens, parents, etc. It is difficult to raise and teach children. Step up to the challenge! Stop allowing children to run the show! They deserve to be held accountable so they may grow in self-respecting adults.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Why even give diplomas - they don't mean anything

Tcope
Tcope

I love this quote.

 "As public educators, we work in a fishbowl of constant examination. We often bear the brunt of criticism, seldom the warm feelings of praise." 

If you did not understand that working for the government involved constant evaluation of your effectiveness by taxpayers, you should have applied for a job elsewhere. For those that missed it, "public educators" = government educators.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Tcope It isn't constant evaluation of effectiveness that is being complained about!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I am curious. Superintendent Carstarphen states that the data is being reviewed to determine if there have been grade changes over the last 3 years. Then what? It seems pretty clear that the data will show there have been. What punishments will occur? What corrections will take place? Once the dog catches the car, what does it do with it?

class80olddog
class80olddog

Those educators will be given a stern talking-to!

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

Perhaps now some will better understand that is not not necessarily the "teachers" who choose to change grades, or allow failing students to retake tests until they pass, or do not grade homework, or insist on "flexible" due dates...it is district POLICY.  Many teachers are against such policies, but have little recourse.  When teachers in my district complained about such mandates, they were pretty much told, "Sit down and shut up.  There are many other people who would love your job."


So, maybe it is time to start talking about problems at the central office and district level, since most of these policies are also above school administrators heads.  Districts are concerned about "looking good" on paper.  Teachers (at least the good ones) are worried about actual student learning.

heyteacher
heyteacher

@Quidocetdiscit 

Looking good on paper means graduating kids. By the time I get them senior year, we're told to pass them -- period.  When I first started teaching (1987), we had summer school, night school, alternative school, 0 period -- when the state stopped funding these programs we started these ridiculous "recovery" policies and students were expected to complete coursework on time. The reality is that some students need to take the darn course again -- either because they didn't get it the first time or they didn't do the work.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Hey teacher- no social promotion - you should be banned from teaching

class80olddog
class80olddog

I agree with you that this is an administration problemI

gactzn2
gactzn2

Let's face it, Big Business is important to the growth and viability of a city.  Economic viability at all costs may require putting lipstick on a pig if that will generate additional revenue via economic development- a repercussion of corporate model's influence on public education.

class80olddog
class80olddog

" treating deadlines as pliable?"

Are your deadlines "pliable" at AJC, Maureen?

class80olddog
class80olddog

“Parents are not spending $20,000 a year for D’s.”

Parents are also not spending $20000 a year for 900 SAT scores.  If I had sent my child to a private school, they came out with a 4.0 GPA, then had less than a 1200 SAT score, I would be FURIOUS.  THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING!  You can cheat and hand out grades all you want, but a standardized test will show what clothes the Emperor is wearing!  Why do you think they did away with the GHSGT?  The TRUTH was too painful!

(and don't dare tell me that the GHSGT was a "flawed test" - if it was flawed, the proper course of action would have been to fix the test, not do away with it.)

class80olddog
class80olddog

In my line of work, if you "educate" someone (train them) and they do not understand the material, but you pass them anyway (say you give them a "Competent Trench Safety" card), then they may do something wrong and kill themselves or someone else.

Same with graduates of APS - if they cannot read and comprehend a safety warning brochure - they may put themselves or another worker in danger of being killed.  I do not want to employ someone like that!

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog


Class - What if you were given the 30 adults that lived closest to a random neighborhood and told that your job performance depended on all of these adults being competent in trench safety? Would you be a bad teacher and it be your fault if many of these adults did not perform satisfactorily? Some rules- They don't have to come to class, you can't fire them, some may not be able to read and may have intellectual, physical, or emotional disabilities. Would a charter/private school be able to do a better job than you with the same rules and population?

class80olddog
class80olddog

I would immediately start a search for a new job. And a private school doesn't adhere to the same dumb rules (can't punish kids for not attending)

class80olddog
class80olddog

If a business like you described existed, a new business would start up right next door and drive the first one out of business, because of competition

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog 


Maybe you didn't get my drift. My scenario explains the plight of many teachers who are unreasonably expected to produce certain test scores with a random population. This general population level of performance is used over and over to label schools failing but no business has ever offered a model that could be used in all public school populations to solve the performance standard problem.