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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Press Releases

September 21, 2015, Contact: Press Office (518) 474-4015

DiNapoli: Audit Finds Inadequate Oversight of Student Grade Changes

Student grades in five school districts were changed from failing to passing without proper documentation or supporting information, according to an audit issued today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The audit examined the computer and software systems that tracked, recorded and maintained student grades in the Arlington, Elmira, Fairport, Freeport and Saratoga Springs school districts. A sixth school district that was audited, Williamsville, does not detail or track the history of grade changes.

“When proper controls are not in place, there is the possibility of student grades being inappropriately altered,” DiNapoli said. “When grades are changed, there needs to be a record justifying the changes. These lax policies could easily be manipulated and graduation rates, college placement and teacher performance could be compromised by these system weaknesses.”

During the audit period of July 2013 to May 2015, auditors reviewed 90 grade changes made by non-teachers, which includes guidance counselors and other staff, at each district (450 grade changes in total) and found 196 changes (44 percent) were not supported with written documentation from the student’s teacher authorizing the change. Of these changes, 97 (50 percent) were changed from failing to passing, 36 (18 percent) increased a grade, 10 (5 percent) decreased a grade and 53 (27 percent) changed a grade from no grade to 65 or better.

In addition, auditors found these districts allowed 1,482 grade changes which pertained to previous school years as far back as 2007-08. Audit tests of these prior year grade changes found that 80 percent were not supported with written authorization.

District officials attribute the unsupported grade changes to a lack of policy guidance. For example, at the end of each semester, the number of grade changes can be voluminous and retaining emails or documenting discussions did not always occur. Other causes include unclear or no supporting documentation requirements and lax monitoring by district officials.

The audit also revealed five of the six districts are not effectively limiting access to student grading systems. The districts typically lacked proper policies for adding system users, establishing users’ access rights, deactivating or modifying user accounts, granting user permissions and monitoring user access.

DiNapoli recommended steps districts should take to safeguard student grades moving forward, which includes:

  • Implementing new policies that outline procedures and requirements for making grade changes in both current and previous academic years;
  • Restricting the ability to make grade changes after the close of a marking period to only designated individuals;
  • Retaining documentation to show who authorized grade changes and the reason for the changes;
  • Periodically reviewing grade changes to determine the appropriateness of the changes;
  • Strengthening controls to ensure that individuals are assigned only those access rights needed to perform their job duties; and
  • Updating annual reporting to the State Education Department to ensure accurate grade records are being reported.

Of the four school districts that responded to the audit, officials indicated that they plan to initiate corrective action. To read the officials’ responses and for a full copy of the final report, visit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/swr/2015/StudentGradingSystems/global.htm

For access to state and local government spending, public authority financial data and information on 50,000 state contracts, visit Open Book New York. The easy-to-use website was created by DiNapoli to promote openness in government and provide taxpayers with better access to the financial workings of government.

 

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