NYC Renewal Schools Accused of Scrubbing Grades


In one of the "out of time" Renewal schools — schools which require significant revamping or shutting down — in New York City, the failing scores of five students who took Regents exams in January were changed to passing scores of 65 or higher on their transcripts, according to Susan Edelman of the New York Post.

The Automotive High School in Greenpoint, Brooklyn has been accused of scrubbing grades, a practice which was banned in the state in 2011. One junior had two of his grades increased even though he had failed biology and algebra. The student felt he had worked so hard in both classes, he deserved a break on his exam grades.

The DOE tried to fire a teacher who raised scores for five students in 2013 on a Regents physics exam. City scores dropped sharply in 2014 when a new rule blocked teachers from grading tests given at their own schools.

State officials said last week that exams may be re-scored "if the superintendent of schools has compelling reason to believe that an essay was not scored in accordance with the rating guide or according to the required procedures." Aimee Horowitz, superintendent of the Renewal high schools, "reviewed and approved" appeals for re-scoring nine Automotive students' Regents exams.

The principal of Automotive, Caterina Lafergola, has retained her position in spite of the fact that she has not fulfilled her directive from Mayor de Blasio to revive the school. Staff and students said she was instrumental in the score changes, although the DOE said that she was not.

Automotive's exam results are weak. Thirty of 66 students who were to take the Living Environment exam did not show up. Of the 36 who took the test, only four passed. In Common Core math, one student out of 25 passed, and in trigonometry, all seven test takers failed. English students fared a little better with 37% passing, and the US History exam had 42% of students passing.

De Blasio did not attend the Automotive commencement where only 43% of the 98 seniors received diplomas, which was even lower than last year's 49%. Automotive is in real trouble with enrollment dropping from 881 in 2010-2011 to 383 last September and finishing with only 350 students. Most of its incoming freshman have failed or score below the proficient level on state exams, according to state records.

Automotive isn't the only school on the hot seat. In Gravesend, Brooklyn, writes Joe Mauceri of WPIX-TV, there is an investigation which has been going on for more than a year, into whether administrators at John Dewey High School improved graduation rates by fixing grades. The investigation is still incomplete, leaving some students who were part of the credit recovery program at the school, wondering if they will receive diplomas.

"The investigation is nearing completion," a spokesperson told [WPIX] in a statement. "While we cannot discuss its findings today, if there are substantiated claims of grade fixing that affect credits students need to graduate, we will require those students to secure those credits and they would not graduate on time."

But a teacher at the school, Rossitza D'Agati, believes students will not be impacted on graduation day, and says:

"In the last three years I've noticed how things are changing in the positive direction."

WCBS-TV New York's Dick Brennan reported that many of the seniors of the 2015 graduating class at Dewey defended their school and their diplomas.

"I've worked hard my whole senior year," Pascal told CBS2's Andrea Grymes. "Sweat, cried, stayed up all night — and I've worked part time. All the allegation stuff, I think honestly, is not true."

The allegations had come from a small group of teachers who blew the whistle on what they described as "massive academic fraud."

"At least 10 percent of these students don't deserve to graduate," said John Dewey social studies teacher Wade Goria.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the claims had not been substantiated, but the investigation was going forward. Teachers have said they think the city is ignoring the scandal and that they do not believe that investigators are really looking at all the evidence.

De Blasio, when asked about the "scrubbing", said:

"It's something that is within the normal approach of our school system. I think it should be looked at in that context of history, that this is something that's been done consistently when there's a specific situation that calls for it."

These comments by the mayor enraged education activists. They suggested that the mayor needed to rethink his education stance; that the exams are in place to establish young people's college readiness; and re-scoring should never be allowed, say Susan Edelman, Michael Gartland, and Danika Fears, reporting for the New York Post. The city, they reported, has vowed to turn the 94 low-performing Renewal schools around by "flooding them with funding. Last week Fariña told principals of the schools that "failure was not an option," reported Chalkbeat New York.

Yet, when The Post asked about the re-scoring at Automotive, she responded in an e-mail, "Your information is inaccurate."

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