After cheating scandal, APS grading gains went unscrutinized

In recent years, Atlanta Public Schools administrators have pushed for students to receive fewer F’s.

But even amid a cheating scandal that drew national attention, no one in the district’s central office monitored whether the more than 7,700 changes made to student grades over the past 3 years were justified.

That previous cheating scandal involved Atlanta educators who changed students’ answers on state tests, citing in some cases pressure from supervisors to raise scores.

Atlanta 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.

Both Carstarphen and her predecessor, former superintendent Erroll Davis, said they were aware of previous reports that principals had changed failing grades or pressured teachers to do so.

“The challenge at APS is always that no investments have been made over the years in control systems and feedback systems which give you early indications of these kinds of things,” Davis said. “So you only catch them through audits or when someone decides to be a whistleblower or something like that.”

And yet South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice Principal Charlotte Davis remained in place for nearly a year after district investigators first learned of allegations that she changed more than 100 student grades from failing to passing with scant justification at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

During the next school year, the school again saw more than 100 numeric grades changed from failing to passing, a rate that far exceeded other Atlanta high schools.

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.

In Atlanta high schools, grades are changed — raised, lowered or changed from incompletes or other notations into district-required numeric grades — about 30 times more often than in Dekalb County high schools. (Other metro districts said they were unable to provide comparable data.)

About 25 percent of grade changes in all Atlanta high schools in the past 3 years turned F’s into passing grades. Approximately one in five of those changes involved grades that started out below 50.

About 2 percent of all APS high school grade changes moved in the other direction turning passing grades into F’s.

Read more about grade changing in Atlanta Public Schools on MyAJC.com.

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