The Hempstead school district has been systematically changing some students'...

The Hempstead school district has been systematically changing some students' failing final course grades into passing grades. (Jun. 22, 2013) Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

If you can't achieve your goals the right way, cut corners.

That's the message Hempstead school district administrators are sending their nearly 6,000 students by automatically rounding up failing marks to make the cut.

School leaders say the systematic grade inflation has been official policy in the dysfunctional school district for years. Grade-recording software programs raise failing final course grades of 63 or 64 to passing scores of 65 in grades 6-12. A district administrator said boosting marks is standard procedure on Long Island, though other districts denied the claim. And in a school district with a 38 percent graduation rate in 2011-12 -- worst among Long Island's 124 public school districts -- the policy doesn't so much nudge borderline high school students toward college as it masks the difficulties of just graduating.

Hempstead students are already plagued by underlying challenges: poverty, limited English proficiency and racial tensions, to name a few. The district's admission of grade boosting highlights yet another way administrators have failed to help students overcome those hurdles.

Hempstead director of technology Carlos Ramirez finally blew the whistle on grade inflation in June, emailing other school officials, "I personally consider the process inappropriate."

Critics have also alleged mismanagement and irresponsible spending in programs ranging from special education to English as a second language. Students, meanwhile, have seen seven superintendent changes in the last eight years. And the school board voted in April to consolidate the district's three college prep academies and one senior academy -- a construct created less than three years ago -- back into one four-year high school.

Underperforming schools need leaders who set examples by making the tough choices, not by cutting corners. Hempstead school district is cheating its students. That's a failing grade that can't be rounded up.

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