CHICAGO
05/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Chicago Public Schools Grade Inflation: Hyde Park Academy Raised 2,000 Grades

UPDATE:
The Sun-Times reports Thursday that the schools inspector general has launched an investigation into the grade hikes at more than 30 schools, including Hyde Park Academy High.

Mayor Daley has also weighed in on the subject, decrying the practice of changing grade. "Anybody who phonies a grade up for a student is really cheating the student,” he said in the Sun-Times piece.

And the president of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, Marilyn Stewart, was baffled by the blanket A’s handed out at Hyde Park Academy. “That doesn’t make sense,” she said.

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Hyde Park Academy High, an under-performing school in the neighborhood Barack Obama once called home, is on academic probation. If too many freshmen or seniors there turn in failing grades, the school could face federal sanctions or even closure.

The school's staff found an easy solution to that problem, according to a Chicago Sun-Times investigative report: change the grades.

Last year, over 2,000 grades were moved upwards at Hyde Park Academy, including more than 800 failing grades changed to passing ones. That's nearly twice as many grades raised -- 92 grades per 100 students -- as the next-highest school, Hope College Prep.

To be fair, over 1,100 grades were moved down at Hyde Park Academy. This means that many of the changes could have been as a result of the new electronic grading system, GradeBook, which many teachers have had trouble adopting and which has a built-in mechanism for correcting grading problems.

But no technical glitch could explain the policy, adopted by school principal Thomas Trotter this school year, of giving blanket A's to five entire classes.

The Sun-Times reports that the classes "suffered through a string of substitute teachers for most of the first quarter."

At Hyde Park this year, the "special memo'' Principal Trotter wrote to grading coordinator Sean Streeter indicated the school was given too few teachers, and had to add five teachers sometime between Oct. 19 and Nov. 9. "In fairness to the students and the newly hired instructors,'' the letter said, all students were getting first-quarter A's, and instructions on what they needed to do to maintain those A's second quarter.

The report comes on the heels of a controversial string of school closings and overhauls announced by Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman. The district is shuttering three schools and firing the entire staffs of five more, in an effort to turn around some of the lowest-performing areas in the city. NBC Chicago cites speculation that the grade inflation scheme -- at Hyde Park Academy and, to a lesser degree, in many other schools across the city -- is an effort to avoid a similar fate.