APS report: Atlanta principal changed nearly 150 student grades

South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice

Enrollment in 2013-14: 277 students

School type: One of three “small schools” at Atlanta Public Schools’ South Atlanta High School

Focus: Offers classes related to government, law and public safety

Have you been affected by grade changes at APS?

Contact molly.bloom@ajc.com or (770) 263-3866

Have you been affected by grade changes at APS?

Contact molly.bloom@ajc.com or (770) 263-3866

Failure was literally not an option at one South Atlanta high school.

Former South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice principal Charlotte Davis told teachers it just couldn’t happen.

Davis changed more than 100 student grades at her Atlanta Public Schools high school from failing to passing in the 2013-14 school year with scant justification, according to an internal district report The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained under state public records laws.

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.

Davis was put on administrative leave and resigned effective June 30. She has not responded to messages from the AJC. But she told district investigators she wanted students to have more time to master course material.

“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.”

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen was not available to speak with the AJC for this story, spokesman James Malone said.

Malone said APS central office administrators do not currently monitor the number of grade changes at each school.

And to date, parents of the affected students have not been told about the grade changes. APS expects to notify them in the coming weeks.

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 submitted so many grade-change forms she told teachers she lost count, according to the report.

In fact, about 610 grade-change forms were processed for South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice in 2013-14, according to the report. That works out to about two per student. Davis herself initiated 144 of those grade changes.

One student ended up with two passing grades on his transcript: one from summer school and one awarded by Davis’ flurry of changes, 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.

Davis violated state rules and falsified information submitted to local, state and federal entities, district investigators found.

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.