GradPoint review by District confirms concerns about irregularities uncovered by I-Team

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Posted at 9:58 PM, May 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-04 02:45:50-04

A new report tonight confirms hundreds of Clearwater High School students got questionable test scores.

The I-Team first reported on the issue early last year.

Now, the Pinellas County School District is taking action in response to that investigation.

“Students completed the entire year's worth of work within days,” a Clearwater High Teacher told us in February 2016.

That was in response to dozens of documents we uncovered showing students repeatedly received 80s in the online credit recovery program, even though it appeared they did little or no work.

A newly released report prepared by a forensic fraud examiner on behalf of the Pinellas County School District’s Office of Professional Standards said, “District personnel did not comprehensively investigate allegations of misuse or misconduct of the system after  concerns were expressed by staff members, former staff members and news media.”

“I saw a one of my personal student's grades I submitted as a C was also bumped up to a B,” said former Clearwater High School Teacher Kelly Fichtner, who was interviewed as part of the investigation.

The report says teachers, who were supposed to verify course completions and grades, often signed completion forms without doing either and a majority reported having little contact with the students taking the GradPoint classes.  

Records showed GradPoint instructor Princess Watkins manually changed student's online grades nearly 1,500 in the 2014-2015 school year, always giving students grades of 80 or above.

In 1,100 cases, Watkins changed the post test scores which had “no previous grade” to grades of 80 or above.

Six times, she gave grades of 80 or above to students who “no previous grade” on Review Tests, which are considered the final exam in the GradPoint system.

85 times Watkins changed failing grades of between 6 and 77.5 to 80 or above.

Emails also implicated Watkin’s supervisor Clearwater Assistant Principal Taylor Henderson in GradPoint irregularities.

In an email Watkins sent to Henderson on August 7, 2014, she said of GradPoint, “Wow… this is awesome. I like this! We can excuse the lessons because ONLY the post-tests count as grades anyway. There is an EXCUSE button!!! That is wonderful!”

In an email from Henderson to Watkins on May 29,2015, Henderson emails Watkins, “Can you please enroll SWC into semester 2 of English 3 and semester 2 of English 4?”

That same day, Watkins replied, “Done. She will do the finals today and text/e-mail me when done.”

On June 4,2015, Clearwater’s Graduation Day, Henderson emailed Watkins, “Please enroll MR in one section of Psychology, as he is missing that for grad requirements.”

She replied, “Done. He is to take the exam.”

That same day, Watkins signed a course completion form for the class and gave the student a “B”.

Despite that, the auditor says there was no evidence that grades were changed to affect graduation rates, but reflected an issue with a lack of training and supervision.

Both Watkins and Taylor will be reprimanded and neither are now affiliated with the GradPoint system.

The district said it did not find problems with GradPoint in other years or at other schools within the district.

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