Allegations of Grade Tampering Spur Inquiry at NE Campus

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 16, 2006

The agency overseeing the District's charter schools will investigate allegations that an administrator at a Northeast Washington charter school sought to alter students' transcripts to reach an overall grade-point average that would have allowed the facility to stay open, according to board officials.

The allegations were made before the D.C. Public Charter School Board voted last month to revoke the charter of the New School for Enterprise and Development. The board decided to shutter the six-year-old high school June 30 after identifying an array of problems, including weak curricula, underqualified staff and a low schoolwide GPA of 1.8.

Based on the funding formula for charter schools, the city has spent $30 million since 2000 to operate the New School, charter board officials said.

The board agreed to send a four-member team of consultants to the school Wednesday to begin reviewing transcripts for each of the 441 students after it "had been given information about the questionable transcript situation," said charter board spokeswoman Nona Mitchell Richardson. The complaints were made by two one-time New School employees: Tyion Miller, the former registrar, and Maatenre Ramin, a former counselor, Richardson said.

In interviews, Miller and Ramin said that Principal E. Louise White ordered them to alter several transcripts early last month to boost the school's overall GPA to 2.5. Both said they refused and were later told that they were among six employees being let go because the school was having financial problems. Ramin, who was laid off this month, said White told her that the school was $100,000 in debt. Miller was dismissed last month.

The former employees said discussions about altering transcripts focused on improving the school's academic standing.

Miller said that White told her "if a student took English 2 and got an F and took it in summer school and got a B, we could take the F out and go to the charter school board and say we did meet our goals."

In a telephone interview, White denied ordering transcript changes for students who had retaken a class in order to get a better grade. White, who worked for 40 years as a teacher, principal and administrator in the D.C. public schools, said charter schools follow the traditional school system's policy, which requires that both grades appear on the transcript and allows only the passing grade to be counted.

She said there would have been no benefit to removing the failing grade from the document.

White acknowledged that she asked teachers to change F grades assigned to special education students. "Before the report cards were issued, I monitored all 400-some reports," she said. "If I found a special education student had an F, I sent it back to the teacher and had them put an appropriate grade [an incomplete] in it." She said she asked for the incompletes so the students could retake the course or turn in additional work to get a grade.

Thomas Nida, chairman of the charter school board, questioned the approach. "Alterations for any grades need to be looked at carefully," Nida said. "We will look into what constitutes a complete accurate record and what constitutes an abridged version."

"We plan to have our consultants go in and look at the transcripts of students to make sure everything is in order, particularly grades," Richardson said.

Transcripts, she said, should reflect an original failing grade and a new grade for a course a student retook. "We will be looking for evidence of the original grade and the summer school grade," she said.

The charter board will meet with parents Tuesday to discuss options for reassigning students, Richardson said. Moreover, a consultant will monitor staffing levels and the atmosphere at the school, in light of the dismissal of Miller, Ramin and several teachers.

The New School was founded by Albert "Butch" Hopkins, president and chief executive of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp., and other business leaders in 2000 to train low-income students to become entrepreneurs.

Hopkins defended White, saying that she would not have ordered anyone to alter transcripts. "I don't believe that for a moment. That's inconsistent with her character. . . . Her reputation is beyond reproach," he said.

The charter board put the New School on probation in 2003, giving it an opportunity to correct its deficiencies. The school, according to the board, had not submitted required financial audits and met one of its eight academic targets.

Hopkins said the New School's board of trustees is talking with several other charter high schools that might be able to take over the building in the fall, allowing most of the students to remain there.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company