APS grade changing: Gaming the system or a fact of life in schools?

APS reporter Molly Bloom had a deep look in the AJC over the weekend at grade changing in Atlanta Public Schools. Her excellent story revealed some troubling facts:

  • While Atlanta Public Schools monitored how many students failed classes and pushed for fewer F’s, the district did not explore the justifications behind more than 7,700 student grade changes over the past three years. A quarter of those changes turned failing grades to passing grades. About one in five of those changes involved grades that started out below 50.
  • About 3,500 APS high school grades were changed during the 2013-14 school year. That includes grades that were raised, lowered or changed from incompletes or other notations into district-required numeric grades. That works out to a per-student rate approximately 30 times greater than DeKalb County high schools.
  • The two districts are closer when it comes to changing failing grades to passing. In Atlanta, about one grade change in three turned an F into a passing grade. In DeKalb, that figure was about one grade change in four. (This could be going on in other metro districts, but the districts told the AJC they were unable to provide complete grade-change numbers.)
  • These grade changes were occurring while Atlanta was under investigation for widespread cheating on state exams. A chief reason for the test tamping was the immense pressure on educators to show student success. It would seem the same pressure could also foster grade changing.

failingIn the course of writing about grade changing, I’ve talked to suburban teachers who said the greatest pressure to enhance grades comes from parents, not the districts. Can any parents who have questioned a child’s grade explain why and the outcome?

(My kids are now under International Baccalaureate grading, which, by its complexity and multiple moving parts, deflects parent inquiries.)

I know parents who discovered their child lost points for a missed assignment or test that was completed. I’ve had two instances where grades on a child’s transcript were wrong due to data entry mistakes. (I encourage parents to obtain their child’s high school transcript and review it as errors occur. It’s helpful to compare transcripts with report cards.)

Bloom reports: (This is an excerpt of a much longer MyAJC.com story. Please read the full story before commenting.)

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, one year into her job, has launched an investigation into grade changing and implemented policies to control it. But she said she is still trying to change a culture where doing the right thing isn’t always the norm.

In February, associate superintendent for high schools Timothy Gadson emailed principals to say he was concerned about the “staggering number” of students who earned grades below 50. He sent a school-by-school list of the number of students who received sub-50 grades.

“You should have conversations with your teacher[s] about this trend,” he wrote. Although district policy required Gadson to be notified of any grade changes, those notifications never happened, Gadson said. Gadson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he meant school staff should be talking about making sure students learned and received help, not about changing grades.

After the AJC and Channel 2 Action News reported in May about allegations of grade changing at a South Atlanta high school and allegations of other improper grading practices, Carstarphen sent South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice Principal Charlotte Davis a letter saying her contract would not be renewed. Davis later resigned.

Carstarphen promised better oversight of grading practices and ordered a district-wide internal investigation. A final report is expected later this month.

Carstarphen has promised that future investigations into allegations of improper grade changing will be completed more quickly.

APS policy in effect until this October generally limited grade changes to two circumstances: Data entry errors and grade increases when a student who would otherwise have received an F completed work specified in a written academic contract.

Many of the Atlanta grade changes were due to updated marks for dual enrollment courses, changes from an incomplete to an F after parental notification, or changes when teachers offered students a chance to make up work, district officials said.

Four years after a state report detailed the widespread cheating problem on standardized tests, the district still faces a culture that allows unethical behavior to continue unchecked, Carstarphen said. “It still frustrates me immensely that we have adults in the system that are still trying to game the system,” Carstarphen said. “We have to be better than this.”

 

Reader Comments 0

74 comments
Mcknz Holdings
Mcknz Holdings

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FredinDeKalb
FredinDeKalb

Grade changing is a fact of life and has been around for longer than most would admit.  We in the age of analytics, metrics and measuring everything related to the student.  Unfortunately we are focusing more on the data and forgetting about the child.

mensa_dropout
mensa_dropout

How many of those failing grades were between a 60 and a 69?

Most states call that passing. 

mensa_dropout
mensa_dropout

@class80olddog @mensa_dropout

Cheating is cheating, agreed; however, if we actually followed what other states are doing, three things would happen without costing taxpayers a dime:

1.  Graduation rate would go up dramatically.

2.  Cost per pupil would go down.

3.  Drop out rate would fall. 

Iowa has the highest graduation rates in the country.  It takes a 60 to pass a class there. 

Starik
Starik

The prevailing culture in Atlanta seems to be that the purpose of the government is to provide good jobs to people, and to preserve the jobs of "veteran employees" regardless of performance. The hardest thing to do in government is firing people - in the sense that it's unpleasant to do and upsets powerful people. 

PappyHappy
PappyHappy

And one last point, has anyone DEFINED THE TERM "YOU ARE FIRED" to Superintendent Meria Carstarphen???

PappyHappy
PappyHappy

One would think that the national notoriety received in the APS cheating scandal that Superintendent Meria Carstarphen would have taken charge by now; issued some SPECIFIC guidance and guideline; developed and implemented a CHECKS AND BALANCE system, but guess that is simply beyond out superintendent's skill sets.


Are Education Administrators precluded from taking courses in ETHICS?  What do they perceive their jobs to be?  Hair and nail appointments weekly to convey an impression of success -- FOR THEMSELVES?


Folks, sending a child to APS is tantamount to CHILD ABUSE!  This entire system should be turned into Georgia's first UNIVERSAL CHOICE SYSTEM!


Haven't we embarrassed ourselves enough?  Time to go and find a REAL SUPERINTENDENT who will inusre our kids are being TAUGHT -- NOT CHEATED!

Astropig
Astropig

@PappyHappy


I noted on a couple of occasions that Carstarphen lacks real leadership skills.She seems to be standing around like a potted plant while the same type of unethical behavior that brought shame to APS continues in dark corners where she is afraid to go.She seems to be pleading with the mid-level educrats in her system to stop being so darn corrupt long enough for her to right the ship.The very fact that this is ongoing shows that these people are afraid of no one. 

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

We had to ask that my daughter's grade be changed from a B to an A in math one time this year. It was a simple calculation error. Her grades online averaged to an A, but she received a B.


It was changed with little fanfare, and the teacher apologized.

Not a big deal, but I assume this sort of thing must not be that uncommon. This change was justifiable but would be reflected in Cobb County's numbers.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@jarvis1975


That's kind of crazy.  We put grades into the online gradebook, those same grades post online for the parents to see and are exported to the report card and transcript.  


Doesn't make sense that they'd be different, since it's all supposed to be one seamless application.


ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@gactzn2 @ScienceTeacher671 @jarvis1975 I have to put them into PowerSchool, but unless I messed up the grade set-up to begin with (the weighting for tests, labs, quizzes, classwork, etc.) the average should be correct (and the same) in my gradebook, online for the parents, and in the transcript.  

Starik
Starik

We need to redesign the public education system in its entirety.  Kids are mismatched to schools.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

But But the Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor's office were promoting Beverly Hall as the next coming of Christ, what happened? 

Enoch19
Enoch19

Raising standards is a ridiculous solution to teachers and administrators manipulating grades to avoid accountability. It's like passing a law that will never be enforced.  Who Cares? It might give the appearance of doing something without the effort and risk of actually taking action.


The first, essential step in education reform is to tell the absolute truth.  Students must be tested and evaluated and the reality must be the reality. Then, from a basis of truth, we can begin to take corrective action, building on what works and discarding what does not.  Without truth in grading and evaluation, there is no hope of meaningful progress. 

brandonmom
brandonmom

@ M. Downey: "My kids are now under International Baccalaureate grading, which, by its complexity and multiple moving parts, deflects parent inquiries."  This is our situation as well, but I am becoming increasingly concerned that the IB diploma won't be enough to make up for the fact that we are in APS (NAHS). These kids in the upper grades of the IB program work so incredibly hard, and the classes are very challenging, but the school system's reputation is in the gutter and the bad news just keeps coming. I am afraid that colleges are just going to start putting APS students' applications in the trash. Incredibly frustrating and scary for this parent. 

popacorn
popacorn

@brandonmom

Word of advice - Admit you are from Georgia only when absolutely necessary. 

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

@AnsweredTHIS 

When you have a child that struggles in a subject and you email the teacher day one to ask her to please keep you informed, make sure the portal is updated timely, etc. and none of that happens, it's absolutely the teachers fault.  Then when you find out that said teacher has been arrested 6 times for DUI and you approach the principal who then does nothing, you kind of lose your everloving mind and give up all hope that any teacher ever cares about your student.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@PITTFAN

I think as parents that is when we step up, say something, do something and make something happen! There is no job in the world (that I know of) who allows a person to have 6 DUI's and still work. It is our job to make the system do the right thing no matter how loud we have to get and who we have to speak with! Someone has to listen, and someone has to do the right thing with this educator who officially not equipped to teach children but more adapt to being a taster at a local brewery!

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

No matter what grading system is used in a public school, charter school or private school the problem is and will remain parents!

"In the course of writing about grade changing, I’ve talked to suburban teachers who said the greatest pressure to enhnhance grades comes from parents, not the districts. Can any parents who have questioned a child’s grade explain why and the outcome?"

When a parent ONLY worries about their chidlren in school when the grades come out you have a problem. Parents are FIRST AND FOREMOST the primary EDUCATORS of their children! Yes it is these teachers job to educate our children but it is our job as parents from the first day of school to the last to know what our children are learning, know homework schedules, know required rubics measurement ( my daughter was getting a rubics in the 4th grade at the beginning of the year) and understanding how to communicate with your teacher consistently! Not when there is a problem!

Teachers are paid to teach and they have failed us many areas, however parents are required to be parents 365 days of the year and many parents have failed in that area of being the first educators and parents year round! Lets put some responsibility on parents and work with our educators on educating our children!

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@brandonmom 

Please remember that colleges also take into account the applicant's test scores (ACT or SAT), which can show great deal about innate ability and potential for doing college work.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@brandonmom I don't think APS will hurt a child's college options. Many Atlanta kids get into top schools. Also, the colleges know which high schools from Atlanta produce students who are well prepared. I would think North Atlanta has a good reputation with colleges.

brandonmom
brandonmom

@MaureenDowney @brandonmom Thank you for that. I hope you are right. The list of college choices for this year's graduating class was very impressive. But all the bad press just makes it harder for the kids to be proud of their accomplishments.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@PITTFAN


I don't know how a person who has been arrested 6 times for DUI is still working in a school. That's just wrong, and I think the PSC would agree.


From the other side, when you have a list of 5 parents to call, and 3 of them have no working numbers on file with the school, you begin to wonder if parents care or not.  I know that most do, but you see my point?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

When I worked with counselors, teachers, parents and administrators to make certain that each student was placed on his or her exact instructional level, I always was very specific in my analysis of each student's placement and rate of learning.  As I did this, I tried to educate each group, especially parents who, as a whole, were not educated as well as to factors of academic growth as the other groups.  I tried to talk to as many in each group in one-on-one conferences, as possible, using each student's standardized test scores and grades in courses over several years to educate educators and parents to the fact that students MUST be well placed on their individual instructional levels before they will progress to their optimum levels and, especially so that they would not fail.  I never had a parent resist this personal counseling, based on developmental facts of their specific child's(ren) progress and I was able to get students who were misplaced, correctly placed.  Students will never, all, learn the same curriculum, at the same rate, at the same point of time.  School systems must adjust their instructional delivery to this instructional truth that will always be a factor in education.


Moreover, failing students by entire grade levels is counterproductive and causes students to drop out of school early.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@MaryElizabethSings The way your school placed students was laudatory and made sense, but I've never seen a school in this area willing to go to that much trouble.  It must have been a bureaucratic nightmare.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@ScienceTeacher671


It was in several schools that I did this, from grades 1 - 12.  No, it was not a bureaucratic nightmare.  It was a matter of educating teachers, administrators, parents, and counselors.  Then, it fell into place.  Knowledge is power.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog 


Yes, I did early in my career.  As I grew in professional knowledge, I made certain that any student whom I taught was correctly placed.  I had no more than 4 or 5 out of 150 students to fail each quarter and those students were well placed.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog


I made the point never to blame parents either verbally or in my thinking.  I believe that my care for parents (who are simply children grown up) as well as my care for their children was understood by them, beyond words.

Astropig
Astropig

They may fool the "system",they may fool the parents,they may fool the plushbottom educrats in an office somewhere. Heck,they may even fool the kids themselves in our "everyone gets a trophy" reality. But I can assure you,they're not fooling employers.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Astropig That is correct.  That is why they graduate and then are shocked when they can't get a job.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@ScienceTeacher671 @Astropig I saw this coming a long time ago.  Sadly this is what happens when schools spend more time  being political than meeting the urgent instructional needs of the students. 

popacorn
popacorn

Fact of life. Grade changing is an invaluable tool for closing the 'achievement gap'. 

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

I'm interested in the "staggering number" of students who received sub-50 grades.


In my experience, students with grades that low usually have a lot of absences, especially on test days, don't make up missing work, may not even do all their classwork, and sometimes (but not always) have been socially promoted with low skills.  


I don't know any teachers who enjoy it when students have earned such low grades, but it does happen, and usually because of factors beyond the teacher's control.  

class80olddog
class80olddog

@ScienceTeacher671 "In my experience, students with grades that low usually have a lot of absences, especially on test days, don't make up missing work, may not even do all their classwork, and sometimes (but not always) have been socially promoted with low skills. "

NO! REALLY!  I can't believe that!  Tell me this is not so!

Sorry, got the best of me.  That is why absenteeism and social promotion are tow of the three issues I believe are the cause of failing schools.

PJ25
PJ25

APS teachers admit kids "graduate" not knowing how to read or write so how many grades did each one of these kids receive over the their tenure in gubbermint education that was complete BS?  A lot! 

Misterbob3012
Misterbob3012

I would state that there are very few instances of "real" grade changes by corrupt administrators going into the gradebook after hours and making unsubstantiated changes. 


The system is instead set up to force teachers to pass students who have failed. Here are two common practices that I am personally aware of. 


1. Allowing students to turn in work after the course is over is common, even if the teacher does not wish it, for the student showed no willingness to learn or pay attention during the actual class. Looking for justification to force a teacher to accept work months late is normal - putting the onus on the teacher to contact even if that teacher has hundreds of students (a P.E. teacher for example really doesn't have time to contact over every failing grade with a personal message, as that teacher might teach 300 students). However, to maintain peace with the parents administrators will pressure the teacher into accepting late work, even if the grading period is closed by months.  


2.Further, many teachers do not give failing grades simply because they mean nothing (Even if a student needs to be retained, it won't happen due to placement laws) so many teachers don't go through with failing students due to the paperwork, and the fact that the paperwork will be ignored by administrators. Many students will fail every class, but not be retained. 

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@Misterbob3012 I know a few teachers (not most, but a few) who won't "go through with failing students due to the paperwork," even though the administrators would back them up if they documented what they did.  Just don't want to hassle with parents or do the required extra work.  

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

@Misterbob3012 

I have never heard of a teacher accepting work MONTHS after the grading period.  My kids have always had the opportunity to turn in work late, but still within the grading period.

Your second point, I totally believe that.

heyteacher
heyteacher

@Misterbob3012 

Agreed. Many systems allow students to turn in late work as part of a "recovery" policy or call it this making up work part of "standards based instruction" (ie kid didn't meet the standard so they need to do some work to show that they can meet said standard). IMHO we started having these problems when night school, alternative school, and summer school programs were cut -- it's really tough for kids to make up courses if they do fail them (my school used to offer a zero period but that was cut due to funding) so teachers are expected to allow students to "recover" work they didn't do the first time to get them out. It's gaming the system for sure -- but I don't think there's rampant grade changing going on after a kid fails the course -- at least not in my experience. 


gactzn2
gactzn2

@PITTFAN @Misterbob3012 Sadly, I have seen it.  People would be dumbfounded if they fully comprehended some of the atrocious practices in schools.  Many have sour school climates also.  The schools that are the most political seem to have the poorest instructional leadership and the worst climates. Where has the INSTRUCTIONAL leadership gone?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Misterbob3012 Exactly as I had suspected.  And we have people on here that continually say that we do not have problems with our educational system (except for needing more money).  How much extra money does it take to give true grades? None. How much cojones does it take?  Lots.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

@Misterbob3012  You should include 3.

3. Principals have a quota for passing students to the next grade. A teacher who proposes to retain a student does so at peril to his/her continued employment.