Watchdog Investigation : Emails Show Grade Changing At Upstate S - WSPA.com

Watchdog Investigation : Emails Show Grade Changing At Upstate School

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At least one Upstate school changed failing grades and gave higher scores than students actually earned, according to emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. At least one Upstate school changed failing grades and gave higher scores than students actually earned, according to emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C. -

At least one Upstate school changed failing grades and gave higher scores than students actually earned, according to emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

R.D. Anderson serves three Spartanburg County School Districts. At the school, students get real world job skills while earning real grades.  Unlike the real world, however, it isn't easy to fail here.

Former teacher Mickey Turner, says she changed grades for her own students.

"It was raised to a 60 unless there were really extenuating circumstances," Turner said.

7 On Your Side obtained one grade report from Turner's class dated December 21, 2012.  In it, a student receives a grade of 60. The note beside it says, " grade changed from 56 to 60."

"I did what I was supposed to do, or what I was told to do. But as a parent I felt that it might have been inequitable," Turner said.

Turner said it was the school's director, Sherri Yarborough, who told her to change those grades.

"It was never a written policy that you can't give lower than a 60. If you were going to give a grade lower than a 60, you had to come in and show what the student had done or hadn't done," Yarborough said.

7 On Your Side used the Freedom of Information Act to get dozens of emails from the school.  They show instructions from Yarborough to all teachers, including Turner, that instruct those teachers on grading policy.

An email from Yarborough to all teachers on May 19, 2010, says, "Please make sure your final average for the nine weeks and for the semester are not lower than a 60.".

On May 24, 2010, Yarborough wrote to make sure you "DID not GIVE lower than a 60 to any student!!! No MATTER WHAT!!!!"

On May 24, 2011, she wrote, "Remember that no Final Grade should be lower than a "60" – it must be a "60" or higher! (No EXCEPTIONS) You will have to physically change this."

"Those are generally, those are at a time when it was the practice,  I understood from the state uniform grading policy that it didn't matter, the student's not gaining anything by receiving lower than a 60.  They're not getting points for it. An "F" is an "F"," Yarborough said.

60 is an F, but that number can change a student's final grade for a semester or for the year.  Changing a lower score to a 60 can make a failing student pass.

"If you had a 90 the first 9 weeks and maybe you made a 20 the second 9 weeks then you really would have failed," Turner said.  But those students did not fail because "We raised that to a 60 for the second 9 weeks which allowed them to pass for the year or for the semester."

7 On Your Side asked Yarborough if there were students who passed classes or successfully completed programs because of grade changes who might have failed otherwise.

"That could happen yes.  But that's what we're here for we're here to make sure students are successful," Yarborough said.

Yarborough points out that her emails about changing grades changed in May of 2012.  That's because she said there was confusion about state grading policy up to that point.  That month, State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais wrote a memo to all superintendents that called minimum grading policies like these "violations of state policy."

Asked about those so-called "Grade floors" or "Grade Basements" Jay Ragley, a spokesman for Zais said, "it's misleading students to think they're doing better than what they really are. Students should be given grades in accordance with performance so they can know where they really stack up."

"If we're giving students false letter grades and false scores, what happens when they go off into the real world and get a job?  If you're required to work 40 hours a week and you only show up 25, you're not getting half your salary you're getting fired," Ragley said.

Since that memo, Yarborough said teachers no longer get instructions from her office, but that individual teachers can still change student grades.

The changed grades on Mickey Turner's report were from 6 months after the memo.

"They may not be able capable or making higher than a 45 or a 50. That's the teachers discretion as to that's the kind of cases that you have when you look at the state uniform grading policy you have every student from honor student to sometimes the lowest, they can't write their name sometimes in the same classroom," Yarborough said.

Yarborough said the grade changes gave opportunities to students who had fallen behind.  Some grade changes, she said, helped students who missed a great deal of school for illness or injury.  It's fair, she says, to give those students a chance to catch up.

She called Turner a "disgruntled employee".  Turner is no longer employed at the school.

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