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DiNapoli audit finds schools raising grades without showing work

ALBANY - A state comptroller's spot check of public schools found final grades were changed often and without stated reasons, including a U.S. history test score that was changed from a 48 to a passing 65, and a failing final exam score of 52 that was changed to a 98.

The audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office concluded that the computer system schools use to track student progress was often used to change scores and grades, mostly to higher levels, including changes made to past years' grades. Nearly half of the cases had no documentation as to why the changes were deserved.

The audit evaluated the scoring systems in the upstate districts of Arlington, Elmira, Fairport, Saratoga Springs and Williamsville, and in the Freeport Union Free School District in Nassau County.

The audit covering July 2013 to May 2015 was released Monday. It found changes in grades were often made by non-teachers, often guidance counselors and administrators, to grades as far back at the 2007-08 school year. Auditors also found the "lock out" function of the software designed to block unauthorized or unsubstantiated changes wasn't consistently used among the districts audited.

"We found that 80 percent of the changes we tested could not be supported with written authorization," the audit stated.

The school districts responded by saying they were addressing the concerns and noted they expect similar findings would be found in districts statewide.

In Freeport, the audit found 23 grades were changed with 12 rising from "no grade" to passing, 10 went from failing to passing, and 1 other grade was increased. None were decreased, according to the audit.

The district told auditors the findings are helpful and urged the state to provide a "best practice" model to help all school districts that Freeport officials said is complex.

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