High school changed rolls, grades

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COLUMBUS (AP) -- Records show thousands of pieces of data about students enrolled at a Columbus high school were changed or removed during the first week of the 2011 summer break, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Findings involving Linden-McKinley STEM Academy come as the Columbus City Schools face ongoing questions and investigations by the state and Federal Bureau of Investigation into attendance data tampering.

Motivations for changing attendance data include improved building and district scores, additional federal funding and sometimes staff bonuses.

A Columbus Dispatch investigation found absences were deleted, several enrolled students were withdrawn from the rolls, and 87 students' final F grades were traded for Ds.

Of nine of the students interviewed by the newspaper, four knew about the changes and five didn't.

"I wasn't even aware of it," said Lisa Chicoine, whose son was a freshman with a failing English grade that year. "I was hearing about summer school, and then it just didn't happen." The boy is now a junior and doing well, she said.

Rodney Daniels, a senior with a failing social studies grade that was changed to a D, said his personal effort resulted in the improved grade.

"At the time, I was failing," he said. "I did a lot of work to bring my grade up."

Dennis Dorsey Sr. said his son, an eighth-grader at the time, must have received the F in error. The boy had gotten tutoring and, as far as his family knew, had all passing grades, Dorsey said.

Rhonda Johnson, president of the Columbus teachers' union, said there are many honest explanations for adjustments as a school year closes out. Under Columbus teachers' contract, however, classroom teachers are to be informed of such changes.

"I don't see any reason for changing a grade at all without having a discussion with the teacher," Johnson said.

Robert "Buzz" Trafford, a Columbus attorney representing the district, said he believed student-level information used by the newspaper and logs of grade changes that the district previously provided were wrong.

He said the district believes only 6 of the 87 students in question had their grades changed, and one was for the worse.

"In most instances, we're not seeing a grade change at all," Trafford said.

A spokewoman for Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said about 50 Columbus teachers have been interviewed in recent weeks as part of the state's ongoing investigation. Yost declined to speak specifically to Linden-McKinley.

The newspaper found one school secretary deleted more than 5,700 student absences -- for individual classes, whole days and half days -- and altered 944 grades that week. The bulk of the failing-to-passing grade changes were made by administrators.

An internal district auditor already found that Linden-McKinley employees improperly withdrew students.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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