Grade changes at Atlanta schools drop ~80 percent after investigation


The story so far

May 2015: The AJC and Channel 2 Action News report allegations that the principal of South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice changed more than 100 student grades with scant justification.

June 2015: The AJC/Channel 2 report that APS has investigated at least eight allegations of improper grading practices that school year and found wrongdoing at South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice, Carver School of Technology and Washington High School.

June 2015: APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen announces internal review of grading practices.

July 31, 2015: Internal review finds no “additional cases of serious inappropriate actions.” District subsequently institutes new grading practices and policies.

Now: The number of grade changes drops by nearly 80 percent for the first semester of this year compared to the same period last year.

The Atlanta school district has cracked down on the grading practices that previously allowed principals and others to change students' final grades with little justification.

With a new policy, new safeguards and monitoring, the number of after-the-fact grade changes dropped by nearly 80 percent this year compared to the previous school year.

The changes come after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported last year on numerous allegations of improper grade-changing, awarding students grades they didn't earn and other wrongdoing involving grades at Atlanta high schools.

In one case, a principal told teachers they were not allowed to fail students and changed more than 100 grades from failing to passing. That principal was put on administrative leave, then resigned.

In several cases, school staff claimed they were retaliated against for reporting problems with grading practices.

In total, the district looked into eight allegations of improper grading practices last school year and found wrongdoing at South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice, Carver School of Technology and Washington High School. Two of the principals resigned. Two other administrators were disciplined, receiving a demotion and a written reprimand.

The district also conducted a district-wide review of grade changes. That review did not find “additional cases of serious inappropriate actions.” But it did find the district lacked safeguards to prevent “inappropriate activity.” The review found too that some staff were confused about how to handle grade changes.

Now, Atlanta Public Schools is monitoring grade changes districtwide and has a new grade-change policy.

“What we’re looking for is just obvious, large numbers from one school or something that just doesn’t seem right to us,” district accountability chief Bill Caritj said. “So far it’s been very smooth. We haven’t seen anything unusual.”

This year, the number of changes to final grades dropped by nearly 80 percent, according to a district-provided tally of grade changes from the first half of this year.

Two schools that had commonly boosted students’ grades due to “remediation assignments” — Douglass High School and South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice — reported just 22 grade changes total in the first half of this year, down from 259 last year.

Part of the overall drop is due to a new district policy for grade changes, Caritj said.

That policy sets a deadline for changes made for reasons such as students arguing for a higher grade or other cases that don’t involve grading errors. And it requires a central office administrator to approve grade changes.

The district has strictly limited who has access to change students' final grades. In the past, all school staff were able to enter grades directly to a student's transcript. Now, at middle and high schools, only high school registrars and middle school guidance counselors have access, Caritj said.

More training for school staff and a bigger emphasis on the importance of getting final grades in on time, to avoid changes later, has helped too, he said.

“We’re sending the right message about this is the way that it’s supposed to work,” he said.