Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Transcripts show that grades were doctored at a predominantly African-American and Latino school

Nanette Asimov:

In spring 2006, teachers' records for an 11th-grade boy at University Preparatory Charter Academy in East Oakland showed an F and five D's.

His report card for the same period featured three D's and three C's.

His transcript -- the one received by the California State University campuses that accepted him -- glowed with three A's and three B's.

Those and the academic records of four other students at the public charter school, known as Uprep, validate what teachers have been saying for weeks:

Someone at the school has doctored students' grades and transcripts, apparently in an effort to give them a leg up in college.

The documents were given to The Chronicle by a Uprep teacher who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Last week, Kimberly Statham, the state administrator who runs the Oakland Unified School District, notified Uprep that the district plans to close the school next month unless its governing board can prove that it should stay open.

"The whole system is designed around this idea that students' grades are inflated to help the student," said Bob Martel, a math teacher who was fired from Uprep in May after he alerted the state Department of Education about a separate effort to cheat on the 2007 state achievement test in the spring.

"Here's what happens: A student gets a D in math. On the report card, both the grade and the name of the course are changed. Go to the transcript, and it's all A's and B's," Martel told The Chronicle. "That's the fraud."

The 11th-grader's records for spring 2006 show that his grade-point average jumped from 1.55 on his report card to 2.93 on his college transcript.

Besides the grade changes, his records also reveal morphed course names. What is called "math" on the teachers' records becomes "math analysis" on the boy's report card, and "trigonometry" on his college transcript.

"English" is changed to "English Literature" on the report card and "English 3" on the transcript. "History" transforms to "World Civilization" and then to "U.S. History."

"Science" becomes "Biology" before vanishing altogether from the transcript, which says "Journalism" instead. Also gone from the transcript is the Spanish class that appears on the teachers' records and the report card.

The other four students' academic records show similar patterns.

Uprep enrolled 475 students in the 2006-07 school year, and accepted $3 million in public funds. The school was founded in 2001 as a pathway to college for disadvantaged youth, and it operates on an 11-month schedule that includes summer months.

Earlier this month, the California Department of Education invalidated Uprep's state achievement test scores for the second year in a row after state investigators seized illegal copies of 2005 exams at Uprep that were being used to coach students on the nearly identical 2007 test.

The state also nullified the school's 2006 scores after discovering that someone had changed hundreds of test score answers from wrong to right.

In addition, Martel and seven other Uprep teachers gave state and local education officials a 27-page report this summer describing a culture of cheating and intimidation at the school.

The Oakland Unified School District stepped up its scrutiny of the school in response to the report, investigating school finances in addition to teachers' allegations.

Kirsten Vital, chief of community accountability for the district, declined to comment Friday on the students' conflicting academic records until the district completes its investigation today or Tuesday. Vital said the district will ask California's Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, which examines the financial records of troubled public schools and districts, to audit Uprep's books.

The school district's warning to Uprep last week came days after Uprep's founder and director, Isaac Haqq, resigned on July 12. Haqq had defended the quality and the mission of Uprep, while denying any cheating or other wrongdoing.

"We do not change grades," Haqq wrote to parents in a letter dated July 9. "You know the truth because you see your kid's report cards. They get A's, B's and C's and sometimes D's and F's, like most of America."

Haqq asked parents to remain "calm and quiet" about what he described as unsubstantiated accusations of cheating by "a couple of ex-teachers."

"The charge is embarrassing and tough to defend against, since no students are named and no evidence is being offered. Only the allegation is being made," Haqq wrote.

Haqq, a former Pasadena city councilman known in the early 1990s as Isaac Richard, suggested in the letter that racism was at play in the accusations. State records show that 99 percent of Uprep students are nonwhite. More than two-thirds are African American, and 12 percent are Latino.

"Historically, successful people of color must periodically challenge those who call that success into question," he wrote. "It has been that way for a long time. Unfortunately, not much has changed."

But the documents obtained by The Chronicle -- which include college transcripts for five students in the class of 2007 -- support teachers' allegations of grade and transcript changes. The five transcripts show a similar pattern: In each school year since 2004-05, no grade is lower than A, B or C in any semester except spring of this year.

In the most recent semester, the grades of all five students take a deep dive. Whereas there never had been a D or an F in previous semesters, suddenly there were 13 F's and three D's among them.

"These grades were given in the latter part of May, when teachers were being fired or quitting on a daily basis," said Martel, who by that time had called in state investigators. "Isaac knew he was under the microscope."

It was not clear whether students knew their grades were being changed. The Chronicle could not reach students named on the records it obtained.

But one teacher who asked not to be identified said she had taught the 11th-grader with the changed grades. He graduated this year.

"He's going to crash the first semester when they put him through the placement tests," she said. "It's going to be horrible.

"It's hard to blame Isaac for this student not doing any work. But if they'd been honest with him, he could have caught up. He's a smart guy."

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