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To fail or not to fail: That wasn't the question at APS school where principal changed grades

Given that so many of her APS colleagues had their careers ruined two years earlier by allegations of cheating, former South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice principal Charlotte Davis must have felt she had the fates on her side.

Citing an APS report, the AJC says Davis changed more than 100 student grades at her Atlanta Public Schools high school from failing to passing in the 2013-14 school year. Wielding the state public record laws, the AJC obtained an internal district report on the grade changing.

I found that allegation interesting as I’ve been at several legislative hearings where lawmakers discussed allowing high school students to “test out” of classes by passing the related EOCT.

I would be curious to know how many kids at the South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice passed the EOCT without going to class. Those students seem less worrisome to me since they’re academically capable of passing a test on the entire course without ever attending classes.

I would also be interested in knowing how students who had grades changed in 2013-14 performed the following year. For instance, did some of the students fail because of low test scores, while others did so because they didn’t turn in assignments? There’s a difference; low-scoring students may not have understood the content. Those who didn’t turn in assignments may just be lazy.

Many teachers tell me they're under tremendous pressure not to fail students. There are private schools in Atlanta that assure parents their children will end up HOPE eligible because every child is “taught to mastery.”

The wobbliness of grading systems is why I still support testing.

Anyway, here is some of the good stuff from the grade changing story by AJC reporter Molly Boom:

The changes meant students who had failed courses were not required to repeat them. Davis also routinely withdrew students from the school’s rolls in violation of state compulsory attendance laws. And she awarded passing grades to students enrolled in online classes, regardless of their performance, according to the report.

The grade changes came as APS placed greater emphasis on improving high school graduation rates — and as prosecutors prepared to take to trial the criminal case in the APS standardized test-cheating scandal.

Davis remained at the school for nearly an entire school year after teachers first reported the problems at South Atlanta. During that year, she retaliated against at least one of the teachers who complained about the grade changes by laying the teacher off, according to a district report.

“Once we discovered this incident, we acted swiftly to do a thorough investigation,” APS spokeswoman Jill Strickland said. “We didn’t want to take this lightly.”

South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice was one of three “small schools” within South Atlanta High School created as part of an earlier APS initiative. The small schools at South Atlanta and other APS high schools will be phased out this coming school year.

In the 2013-14 school year, Davis told teachers they could not fail students, according to the report. Instead, they were to give students who “have not completed mastery” a grade of “P” — for progress. Rebecca Kaye, the district’s policy adviser, cleared the practice, Davis said. Kaye told the AJC she did advise Davis on grading policy in general but did not discuss the practice of awarding P’s to students.

After a district IT manager told Davis grades had to be entered as numbers, Davis changed the “P’s” to 70s, the lowest passing grade, according to the report.

Davis also told teachers to pass students if they passed state End of Course Tests — even if they never came to class. The tests are only supposed to count for up to one-fifth of a student’s grade. If teachers didn’t change the grades, Davis changed them herself, according to the report.

Davis also placed nine students in a computer-based math class supervised only by an intern, according to the report. She manipulated school records so it appeared they were still in a class with an actual teacher. At the end of the semester, Davis gave the students passing grades, even if they had not mastered the material. Davis told investigators she didn’t want students to lose credit for the course.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard’s office did not respond to questions about those violations. However, the Georgia teacher licensure commission has opened a case on Davis.



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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.