- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Auditors who looked at grade changes in several New York school districts often couldn’t find any written explanation from the students’ teachers, leading Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to recommend Monday that districts keep better records and take other steps to safeguard grades.

“These lax policies could easily be manipulated and graduation rates, college placement and teacher performance could be compromised by these system weaknesses,” DiNapoli said following a review of changes made by guidance counselors and other nonteachers in six districts: Arlington, Elmira, Fairport, Freeport, Saratoga Springs and Williamsville.

Some grades were changed a year or more after a student had completed the course, the audit found. In Freeport, a grade for a 2012-13 math course was changed from no grade to a 98 in June 2014, auditors said. A Fairport student saw his failing chemistry grade, a 58, replaced with a passing 74 after the 2012-13 school year ended, the report said.

Auditors could find no written authorization from teachers in 44 percent of 450 grade changes singled out for review. Half of the grades were changed from failing to passing, the audit found, while 36 percent increased a grade and 5 percent decreased a grade.

District officials blamed a lack of policy guidance, along with lax monitoring. Faced with voluminous grade change requests at the end of each semester, employees did not always save emails or document the discussions behind each decision, officials said. In Elmira, Freeport, Saratoga Springs and Williamsville, administrators indicated they would take corrective action, DiNapoli said.

The comptroller recommended that districts keep records showing who authorized a grade change and why, and that they periodically review changes. He said only designated individuals should be allowed to change grades after the close of a marking period and that access to grades should be limited to employees who require it to do their jobs.

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