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Preuss School promises action in grading scandal aftermath

Following a grading scandal at The Preuss School UCSD, a 6-12 grade college-prep middle/high school serving underrepresented students from families without a history of higher education, university officials have vowed to set the record straight and take measures to ensure it never happens again.

“It all came about because a staff member inside the school complained about some incorrect grades,” said Paul Drake, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at UCSD.

On May 18, the chairman of the Preuss School’s board of directors notified the university’s Audit & Management Advisory Services that potential inappropriate grade recordkeeping practices had occurred at the school and requested an investigation. Several former and current Preuss teachers indicated they had been pressured to provide students with “extraordinary” accommodtions to permit students to improve their grades, such as allowing them to turn in assignments after the end of semesters/trimesters or submiting unusual extra-credit assignments not offered to their colleagues.

“Wanting to make sure Preuss met the highest standards, the university called for a very thorough independent audit that took five months,” said Drake.

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The audit confirmed suspicions that inappropriate grading had occurred. It found alleged undue influence being placed on teachers by the Press School principal, former high school counselor and current senior academic advisors to change grades to benefit students, provide alterntive grading measures for failing students or to lessen the rigors of student AP courses to allow students to pass.

A large number of school transcripts reviewed by the audit, 144 of 190 - 75.8 percent - were found to have one or more grades inaccurately reflected in student transcripts or discrepancies between grades posted to electronic grade tables and student transcripts. An equally large number of those inaccuracies - 71.7 percent - ended up having a positive impact on students’ grades and academic standing.

Reacting to the results of the Preuss audit, the university released a statement on Dec. 12.

“With its top-10 rankings in Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, the Preuss School is a great source of pride for UCSD and the San Diego community and we continue to have a high level of confidence in the school, its mission, and its students,” said UCSD’s statement.” The audit detailed 427 instances of incorrect grade recording, identified discrepancies in the recording of grades and problems with the administrative functions required by state law and university and school policies. Several aspects of Preuss School internal controls were found to be inadequate, including the management of student information systems, preparation of student transcripts, staffing of the Registrar position and retention of documentation supporting student grades and authorized grade changes.

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“The audit has found that grades were incorrectly recorded for several reasons, including insufficient management and oversight, and human and systems errors. Of 21 Preuss School teachers who were interviewed as part of the audit, 11 stated that they felt pressured to give higher grades to students. Two were asked to provide students with additional accommodations beyond normal to improve their grades. At no time during this review were students found to be involved.”

Drake said a number of steps are being taken now at Preuss School to address faulty procedures that allowed the grading scandal to happen. He added new measures are being put into place to ensure proper oversight of future grading practices preventing future abuses.

“We are taking corrective measures, both to make sure all previously recorded grades are correct, especially concerning graduating seniors applying to colleges,” said Drake, “and we’re putting into place corrective measures with a new registrar and other new systems to make sure it never happens again.”

The reasons for the grading scandal were characterized by Drake as “very complicated and not completely clear.”

“Some of the errors were due to just plain mistakes, some were inadvertent, some were due to an incompetent system and some may have been intentional,” he said. “It’s the last category we’re most concerned about, some intentional changing of the grades.”

Of the inaccurately reported grades, Drake said one-fourth made student’s records worse or had no impact, while three-quarters improved students’ records. “There was a tendency to improve the overall record,” he added, “though we estimate that only 5 percent of students were affected. But grades are sacred. In education, they’re the coin of the realm. So even 3 or 4 percent is unacceptable.”

Drake added UCSD, the Preuss board and the principal all accept full responsibility for ensuring accuracy of grade reporting, guaranteeing any abuses found will be dealt with severely and not repeated.

Asked whether the grading scandal has negatively impacted the school’s image in the long-term, Drake replied: “We certainly hope not. People need to read the audit. It doesn’t affect the school’s national ranking, doesn’t affect the wonderful education students have had, the vast majorty of whom have gone on to college.

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“We can’t have this kind of taint on the record. We’ve got to shield the school and the students from anything like that in the future. Obviously, we’re disappointed with the results of this audit. We don’t like what we’ve found, so we’re trying to find a way to make sure the damage is minimal, and that it doesn’t reoccur.”

UCSD’s statement on the Preuss audit indicates a series of interim corrective actions are being implemented, including a change in administrative oversight at The Preuss School and a series of specific steps to restrict access to grade reporting systems.

“This audit points to a need for greater management and internal controls - it does not implicate our students and does not affect our mission,” said UCSD in its Preuss audit statement. “The School remains firmly on the right path: the education of our students remains the primary focus and that has not changed or been compromised.”

The Preuss grading audit can be reviewed at www.ucsd.edu.