Grade inflation has been in the national news as schools face increased pressure to improve student achievement, an issue Georgia knows well after the CRCT cheating scandals in Atlanta and Dougherty County schools.
Even Canada, held up as a model of effective education reform, has seen complaints from teachers of mounting pressure to alter grades so fewer students fail under a stricter accountability system.
Closer to home, teachers in a Tennessee for-profit virtual school complained of an email that directed them to drop failing grades. In a recent investigation, Nashville’s WTVF/NewsChannel 5 found that a Tennessee Virtual Academy administrator instructed middle school teachers to delete failing grades.
The case has had reverberations nationwide as the parent company of Tennessee Virtual, K12, the nation’s largest online educator, attempts to win contracts in other states.
The email advised Tennessee Virtual teachers: “After … looking at so many failing grades, we need to make some changes before the holidays,” stated the email. The email advised teachers to “take out the October and September progress [reports]; delete it so that all that is showing is November progress…If you have given an assignment and most of your students failed that assignment, then you need to take that grade out.”
The virtual charter school defended the practice in a response to the TV station.
According to the WTVF report:
“By going back into our school’s electronic grading system and recording students’ most recent progress score (instead of taking the average throughout the semester) we could more accurately recognize students’ current progress in their individualized learning program,” principal Josh Williams said in the statement.
“This also helped differentiate those and identify those who needed instructional intervention and remediation.” Williams compared K12’s grade deletions to the “common practice in traditional schools” of allowing “make-up tests, alternative assessments and extra credit opportunities.”
Yet, the internal email also suggests that Virtual Academy teachers had already attempted those sorts of efforts to boost student grades. “In early December, all teachers gave their students an opportunity to improve their grades by giving additional assignments,” it says. “Yet, we are still seeing failing grades.”
Former B.E.S.T Academy High School Principal Boris Hurst ordered teachers to inflate students’ grades, berated teachers who questioned him, and issued warning letters to teachers with high failure rates, according to a notice of charges signed by Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis.
Hurst had been principal at B.E.S.T., a northwest Atlanta all-boys school, since it opened in 2010. The APS charge letter said he “ignored glaringly inappropriate grade changes” and allowed almost all of the school’s inaugural freshman class to advance to the next grade level, regardless of whether the students learned the required material.
The principal resigned after the school district’s lawyers presented their case against him at a disciplinary hearing Feb. 21, APS spokesman Stephen Alford said. The school system removed Hurst from B.E.S.T. in March 2012, and an interim principal has been running the school since July.
Hurst denied doing anything wrong, and said Wednesday that he resigned to avoid harming his career. “There was never any proof that I changed any grades,” Hurst told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I was just put in a bad situation. … Just because you resigned doesn’t mean you’re guilty of anything.”
Hurst’s attorney, Rosalyn Winters, said Wednesday that he resigned because has accepted a job in Florida. B.E.S.T. (Business, Engineering, Science and Technology) Academy is a 225-student high school that started with a ninth-grade class in the 2010-2011 school year and has added a grade level each year. The school will graduate its first class next year.
The Atlanta school district will monitor B.E.S.T. Academy’s performance, and all school employees are required to take an annual ethics course as a condition of their employment, Alford said. Parent Margaret McBride said students showed her progress reports filled with zeros and failing grades, and later she saw that their final report cards had passing grades.
“The kids were seeing that it didn’t matter. Whatever they did, they were going to pass anyway,” said McBride, whose son is a junior. “My child, in particular, said, ‘You know Mom, I go to school every day, I do my best, but I look around and the kids who are not even trying are passing, so why should I continue to try? Why should I continue to study?’”
Teachers told parents they were frustrated by the grade changes, and they complained that it was hard to teach when students knew there were no consequences if they didn’t learn, said Valerie Irvin, president of the school’s parent, teacher and student association. “It was like he didn’t care if they could read or write, they were going to pass,” said Irvin, the parent of a junior. “He said, ‘We’re going to pass them. We’re not going to have a failure rate at B.E.S.T.’”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog