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Friday, November 13, 2009

Lehman High School and John F. Kennedy HS, Dr. Saraceno, and the Mess of Changing Grades and Progress Reports

The New York City Board of Education has made a huge mess. "They" - the administration , meaning basically Joel Klein, Michael Bloomberg, Candace McClaren (Director, Office of Special Investigations or OSI), Richard Condon, Special Commissioner of Investigations, and the Office of Equal Opportunity - have made it impossible for a principal NOT to cheat on grade reporting.

missing marks November 12, 2009
In Bronx, two high schools’ progress reports are being withheld
by Anna Phillips

Progress reports for the city’s roughly 500 high schools are slated to be released this month, but grades for two Bronx schools will not be among them.

One is Herbert H. Lehman High School, where executive principal Janet Saraceno (pictured above) is under investigation for grade tampering, as I reported last month. The Department of Education also may not release the progress report for John F. Kennedy High School because of missing information and inconsistencies in the data it sent to the department, said DOE spokesman David Cantor.

If the problems with Kennedy’s data are resolved by the time the department releases the reports, the school’s report card will be made public on schedule, Cantor said.

Several other high schools are being examined by the Office of Special Investigations for tampering with students’ Regents scores or inappropriately changing students’ grades after they passed the exam, but their report cards are on track to be released.

“There’s not a template or a rubric for determining this,” Cantor said. “If the allegations are significant enough that they could materially affect the grades of the school, we would hold the progress report back. It doesn’t happen very often.”

Progress reports for high schools assign a letter grade to each school based on students’ credit accumulation and graduation rates, as well as the percentage of students who pass Regents exams.

Current and former teachers at Lehman have charged Saraceno — who was hired with a $25,000 bonus to improve the school’s academics — with giving dozens of students credit for courses they failed or never took. Transcripts given to GothamSchools show that in some instances, a student failed a class, passed the Regents exam by a slim margin, and then had his failing grade overturned. In others, students were given two credits for a class they passed once, or for classes that never appeared on their schedules.

In a memo Saraceno sent to Lehman teachers on October 1, she congratulated the staff on the school’s results from a preliminary progress report. “We made modest gains in the graduation rate, but increased credit accumulation for first-year, second-year, and third-year students by 8-10%,” she wrote.

Though Kennedy is not currently under investigation, the Office of Special Investigations twice scrutinized the schools’ Regents scores following accusations that failing scores had been changed to passing ones. The first investigation found that the school’s principal Anthony Rotunno had the right to change students’ grades. A second inquiry determined that the changes made to 16 students’ transcripts were done according to department guidelines.

UPDATE: A previous version of this post incorrectly suggested that Kennedy High School’s progress report would definitely be withheld when the reports are released later this month. It has been revised to reflect the fact that the school’s report card may be released on time if current data problems are resolved.

Filed under: NewsroomTags: herbert lehman high school, janet saraceno, John Kennedy High School, progress reports Print Share
Posted at 4:07 pm 8 CommentsSubscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack
Leonie Haimson November 12th, 2009
4:50 pm
check out our NYC public school parent blog “Cheating scandal at Lehman: DOE’s response and echoes of the past” for more on the earlier JFK case.
The fact that the DOE determined that it was fine for the principal to change student test scores shows that their theory is right: principal autonomy does lead to better results.
Linda/Retired Teacher November 12th, 2009
5:39 pm
I’m so glad people are finally becoming aware of the frenzied cheating that is going on in New York and across the country. It started with the “Texas Miracle” and has spread like wildfire because politicians and ambitious educators have realized they could go from an obscure classroom or political position to rock star status by pretending their impoverished students went from the 13th to the 90th percentile on standardized tests. Teachers and parents need to speak up whenever they see cheating or “gaming the system” because these invalid scores are forming the basis for an educational infrastructure that is taking hold across the United States. Of course the losers are our children and the public school system that has enabled so many of us to realize the American Dream.
Teacher November 12th, 2009
6:09 pm
NYC - I was fired (among others) because I would not raise my student’s grades (pass everyone). First, they tortured me everyday - wrote me up, bad mouthed me, told me I was no good, then wrote me up some more, threatened my job, my license.
Then, realizing their illegal actions, offered me my job back if I signed a contract saying I wouldn’t sue anybody for things said and done to me.
Finally, I was excessed.
My principal and local superintendent received $10,000. bonuses for doing such a good job of “boosting” grades.
Jeff S November 12th, 2009
6:27 pm
Ah ha…the last statement in the above comment. Of course Principals are under pressure to raise grades or to raise Regents grades because of the bonuses. This is the big problem people simply don’t understand about using test performances and student achievement in granting tenur, evaluating educators, be they teachers or Principals, or indeed even more importantly in grantnig merit pay. I hope you’re listening Mr. Carrol when you keep harping on instituting merit pay. If only there were a fool proof way to evaluate educators that nobody could argue with.

As a former Assistant Principal, I would hate to think it would be my decision which of my teachers would get a $10,000 bonus. I would also hate to think if would be based on a teacher’s passing percentage. Or on the results on Regents exams. None of these take into account a myriad of factors beyond anybody’s control including the raw materials, namely what the student bring in. You have a school which takes in a lot of over the counter students and the powers that be say just because they’re old enough to be high school 9th graders they have to take algebra (or whateve the first course was)….too bad they haven’t attended school for years or did not have the proper groundwork laid. And when these students can’t do the work, you’re told well you’re not teaching them properly. And then when they are put into a situation where they have to take a Regents exam and they fail, well the school has failed the student. And where there are many such students in a particular school, and the Regents results are terrible, the system responds by branding the school a failure. They issue some ridiculous school report card, they threaten to terminate the Principal and then they close the school and send the staff into the ATR. And when other Principals hear these teachers are from that school, no they must be inompetent.

But nobody wants to hear this. All these educational reform from such know nothings like Mr. Carrol and his articule in today’s Post throw out the same malarkey all the time. Merit pay, accountability as if they have any idea how it can be properly measured. But then again, all this garbage always sounds good.
I noticed that... November 12th, 2009
8:43 pm
Boss Tweed is alive and well in the DoE!

I started teaching my students SATs vocabulary words that would best describe education in NYC. We came up with corruption, intimidation, fraud, duplicity, dishonesty, deceit, scam, ruse, devious, unethical, cunning, treacheous, unrealiable, coercion, oppressive, tyranny, dictatorship, despotism.
Rod Paige had the Texas Miracle. New York City has the Every Child’s Grade Will Be Changed to Promote Bonuses! I think I will let my principal decide who should fail my class. I’m going give her my roster and let her decide which student should fail the class. This way I don’t waste time waiting for her to change my grade behind my back. It’s a win-win. The principal wins because she’ll get her bonus. She wins again because she won’t have to change my original failing grade and won’t need to pressure me to change my grade. The losers - the kids! Congratulations to those at Tweed for pressuring principals to not do the right thing. Boss Tweed your spirit is felt in this great city of totalitarianism!
Michael M. November 12th, 2009
9:04 pm
If we want to see Wall Street take the long view, perhaps we should ask that Tweed do so as well.

How about bonuses for all K-12 teachers and in-school administrators along the way whose kids graduate… college? And an extra few bucks if said student goes on to become… a teacher.

And for kids who end up in remedial classes at CUNY, a few bucks out of the teachers’ bonuses, and the pay of execs in Tweed as well. After all, Tweedies need to be “accountable” too.
Lynne Winderbaum November 13th, 2009
9:32 am
The investigations into the English Regents grade changes at Kennedy HS and the addition of classes to transcripts that students never took and never passed were conducted by the Office of Special Investigations. In the case of the Regents grade changes, only the grades of 60 were affected, raising them to a passing score. In approximately two dozen cases, exam papers were shown to the investigators clearly showing that one individual crossed out the original scores in black ink, initialed it, and unilaterally changed the scores of as many as three of the four essays to achieve the passing grade. The way in which the belated passing of the Regents was kept secret from the department’s teachers was damning. After the January Regents, the failing students were enrolled in after-school and Saturday tutorials. Teachers were paid per-session to help the students. In May, students suddenly started telling their teachers that they no longer needed to attend the tutorials because they had, in fact, PASSED! That’s how the tampering was uncovered. A comparison of the March and May transcripts of that year clearly showed that in those two dozen cases, the English grades had been raised from fail to pass.
In the case of the transcript changes, the same investigators were shown the suspect transcripts by guidance counselors. The counselors were scheduling students for evening school in September so that they could repeat the classes they had failed in summer school and earn the credits they needed to graduate. In several cases, the students returned to their counselors after a visit to the AP of programming and announced that they no longer needed to repeat these classes because they now had graduated! A review of the transcripts clearly showed that classes had been added, with no teacher’s name, and a grade of “P”. In one case, the “P” was actually placed on the transcript prior to the student’s repeating that same class two more times! In another case, a student was graduated in haste with fewer than 44 credits. All of the counselors who testified were subsequently put “in excess” from the school, one with 20 years and one with 22 years of experience.
If this is in accordance with department policy, then Bloomberg/Klein should take care in touting their increase in graduation rates. The goal for our schools should be to educate youngsters–not simply graduate them.
Scrutiny should be drawn to many “credit recovery” programs in our high schools as well. As long as the pressure of school report card grades, job security for principals, monetary bonuses, and the threat of school closings looms over us, our students risk being cheated out of the education that is supposed to accompany the diploma. We should admire the many principals who do not succumb to this temptation in times of such threat to their careers by taking the shortcuts that inflate their statistics at the expense of our children.

Young Adult Borough Center at Herbert H. Lehman HS
"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending."

--Carl Bard

The Young Adult Borough Center (YABC) at Herbert H. Lehman HS is an evening academic program which is in session Monday through Thursday from 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm.

YABC at Lehman HS is designed specifically to meet the needs of high school students who might be considering dropping out because they are behind or because they have adult responsibilities that make attending school in the daytime difficult. Eligible students are at least 17.5 years old, have been in school for four or more years, and have 17 or more credits. In partnership with FEGS (Federation Employment Guidance Service) a community-based organization, students are given the opportunity to get placed in paid internships. Through the CBO, students participate in workshops and get support that helps them prepare for college, employment, healthy relationships, and most importantly, life after graduation. Students graduate with a diploma from their home school after they have earned all of their required credits and passed all of the required Regents exams while attending YABC @ Lehman HS.