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Joe Cipp, Jr. Resigns After Allegations Of Grade-Changing To Earn Student NCAA Scholarship To Syracuse

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Joe Cipp, Jr. resigned Wednesday as superintendent of the South Country Central School District in Long Island over an alleged grade-fixing scandal that earned a former student an NCAA scholarship to Syracuse University.

Cipp's resignation follows a months-long investigation into allegations that he had pressured Bellport High School officials to inflate all-state lineman Ryan Sloan's math grades so the student would be eligible for a full athletic scholarship to $52,000-a-year Syracuse.

Former Bellport Principal Kevin O'Connell claimed he was fired after refusing to alter Sloan's scores. In a deposition, O'Connell said Sloan's senior algebra grade was later changed from an F to a D, and his sophomore algebra and junior geometry grades were changed from Ds to Cs, the New York Post reported in December. Cipp was Sloan's football coach at the time.

An independent investigation by former Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Bronwyn Brown implicated Cipp earlier this month and concluded that the superintendent should be fired, according to the Post. The report also implicates current principal Bernie Soete and former Assistant Superintendent Nelson Briggs.

Cipp's resignation takes effect May 2. The school board will continue to pay his $274,000-a-year salary for two years after that in a $545,280 lump sum, Newsday reports. The payout totals to less than the $1 million in estimated legal fees that the district would have faced had Cipp not resigned, according to WABC-TV.

Cipp had spent over 30 years as Bellport High's football team and earned a reputation for being Suffolk County's winningest football coach before he was superintendent. He continue to deny he was part of any wrongdoing.

Sloan, now a college freshman and on Syracuse's football team, declined to comment on the case but contends he worked hard to improve his grades, WABC reports.

Cipp's resignation comes amid waves of cheating scandals surfacing across the country. In Texas, a Dallas elementary school that was given "exemplary" status for academic achievement was discovered to have only taught its third graders reading and math last year -- fabricating scores for every student in other subjects like social studies and science.

The Dallas Morning News reported in November that to propel the school's status, Field Elementary School Principal Roslyn Carter "directed and caused false school records to be created" so that teachers could focus on student excellence in reading and math.

In one of the largest cheating scandals in American school history, 178 Atlanta educators were implicated last summer for test tampering. Teachers and school administrators said they were pressured to maintain high scores under the federal No Child Left Behind law, as student performance on standardized exams is tied to school funding and teacher performance assessments. An investigation into the scandal found that Atlanta Public Schools officials created a culture of "fear, intimidation and retaliation."

But the overhead pressure wasn't unique to Atlanta. School districts from Pennsylvania to Texas to California saw similar problems, often identified by test erasure analyses, as investigations launched in systems across the country.

A Detroit Free Press survey last July reported that nearly 30 percent of public school educators say pressure to cheat on standardized exams is a problem at their schools, particularly at schools that don't meet federal standards, where 46 percent say cheating is an issue.

To lessen the strain of a one-size-fits all approach to student assessments, the Education Department has issued waivers to 11 states, allowing them more freedom from No Child Left Behind -- the Bush-era law that requires annual testing, results of which are tied to consequences for low-performing schools. States that seek waivers from the Obama administration are required to adhere to a measurement, curriculum and assessment plan proposed during the application process. An additional 26 states have applied for waivers.

Even so, some states are still trying to further lessen the emphasis on standardized tests. Virginia's state Senate voted to pass a bill in January that scales back statewide tests for 3rd graders -- cutting history and science from the list and only requiring English and math exams to allow teachers to focus on improving proficiency in those subjects.

The move by the Virginia Senate comes after a draft of a Republican bill would eliminate the federal requirement for statewide science testing. The draft legislation, introduced by House Republicans led by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chair of the House Education Committee, marks a reversal of provisions under the current No Child Left Behind Law, which requires science testing at least three times -- once each during elementary, middle and high school.

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