Sunday, November 19, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Investigate grade-fixing scandal

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Hernando School Board member John Sweeney exploited his public office to inflate his teenage son's academic record in a scam involving take-at-home tests, altered grades and a bogus course description. It is an egregious example of political influence trumping academic integrity, and it warrants a full investigation from the school district and state Department of Education.

The fix appeared to be in from the start. As reported by Tampa Bay Times staff writer Danny Valentine, Kenny Sweeney received an F and then a D in English in his sophomore year at Springstead High School in Spring Hill. The teenager used an online credit-recovery program requiring four at-school examinations to replace the poor grades. That's not unusual; the service is offered to students at other high schools. But in this case, someone circumvented the test protocols and revealed protected information on how to access the test website. That allowed Sweeney, now a high school senior, to take the exams at home last fall. He scored grades of C for both semesters.

Even violating the rules and taking the test at home wasn't enough. In December, his father hand-delivered a grade change form to Springstead High School principal Susan Duval that raised the semester grades to B. The form, signed by Tim Urban, principal of the district's alternative school, Endeavor Academy, added 53 percentage points to the first semester grade to bring it to 80, essentially tripling the score originally earned in the classroom. The second semester grade was bumped to 81. The scenario was repeated in January, when the School Board member delivered a second form that altered the course description from a traditional class to a weighted honors class, inflating the student's grade-point average. The Springstead principal correctly interceded, caught the fraudulent course description, discovered the scores had been altered and required the semester grades to be restored to C.

There are established procedures to challenge the validity of a grade. These aren't it. John Sweeney's actions are indefensible and undermine all teachers who resist inflating grades to placate helicopter parents. His interference perpetuated academic fraud and violated the district's mission to prepare students for college or a workforce that will not tolerate violating the rules to puff up performance.

Among the questions that demand answers: Who provided the secure information to the test website? Why did Urban, a principal already under scrutiny for previous administrative shortcomings, become the enabler? What exact role did Sweeney play?

The school district and the state should conduct a thorough investigation into this clear case of academic fraud, and there should be serious consequences for those behind it. Sweeney is seeking re-election to the Hernando School Board, and voters should remember this abuse of power when they cast their ballots in August.

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