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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.”

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?

 

 


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.