A four-year analysis of final grades across Memphis high schools found that Trezevant High is not alone in frequent instances of changed transcripts.
In fact, Trezevant had Shelby County Schools’ second highest number of transcript changes from “failing” to “passing,” according to a North Carolina accounting firm that conducted a district-wide review in the wake of allegations of grade tampering at Trezevant.
Kirby High School logged the most changes — 582 — between July 2012 and October 2016, the period covered by the analysis. Trezevant had 461. They were followed by Raleigh-Egypt with 429, Bolton with 314, and Power Center Academy with 308. The average number of grade changes across all of the district’s high schools was 53.
The analysis from the firm of Dixon Hughes Goodman was included within two massive reports released Tuesday evening in conjunction with a presentation to the school board.
While changes to transcripts don’t necessarily mean that grades were tampered with, the analysis concluded that “additional investigation around grade changes is warranted.”
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told reporters later that his administration will work with the school board to determine how to proceed with a deeper probe. Both he and the board expressed deep regret to students and families impacted by the scandal.
“Our hope is that, moving forward, employees understand the importance of safeguarding all student records and that they will adhere to the processes put in place to avoid a situation like this from happening again,” said a statement from the board.
The reports were released more than a year after then-Trezevant Principal Ronnie Mackin contacted district leaders with concerns about possible grade tampering at his school. He later released a fiery resignation letter alleging a cover-up by district leadership of “corrupt, illegal and unethical activities.” The charge was denied by Hopson but prompted the launch of several external investigations, one of which found no evidence of a cover-up.
One of those probes focused specifically on Trezevant and found a pervasive culture of changing grades so that more students could pass courses to increase the school’s graduation rate. Mackin’s letter had focused on student athletes on the school’s championship football team, but investigators said the problem went further than that.
“The majority of individuals whose grades were changed were non-athletes. This was not just an athletic scandal,” said Ed Stanton, the former U.S. attorney hired to look into the matter.
In all, at least 53 students who graduated from Trezevant shouldn’t have received their diplomas, according to Stanton’s report.
After Stanton’s presentation, the school board voted unanimously to fire former football coach Teli White, who has been suspended since June pending the investigation’s outcome. But board members left the door open to other possible dismissals later.
“We know there were people who were in that building for quite some time …,” said board member Chris Caldwell. “I think it’s worth looking into because those people may be in other positions in authority.”
Stanton recommended that the district create an alert system when transcripts are changed digitally and a uniform policy on grade minimums that contributed to students being “unduly advanced” to the next grade. He also urged the district to require monthly reports from principals explaining any transcript changes and to regularly audit such changes.
District leaders report that, this year, they already have conducted special trainings of school personnel with access to grades and invested in new software and personnel to oversee the data.
Board members were frustrated and even angry about the results of the probes, especially after Hopson assured them in June that possible grade-changing issues were isolated to Trezevant based on the evidence at that time.
“We have to all know and understand that we have royally messed over some of these children in this district, especially when we pass them and gave them a diploma when we knew — we knew — they were not eligible to graduate. So, I hope that this report is a lesson to us all,” said Stephanie Love, whose district includes Trezevant High.
Lawyers hired to investigate Mackin’s subsequent allegations — including that he was being targeted for dismissal because of alleged financial fraud at Trezevant — found no basis for that claim.
Reached by Chalkbeat later Tuesday night, Mackin did not immediately comment on the findings.
Dixon Hughes Goodman was hired to review four years worth of student transcripts from all high schools in Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest district. The company scanned every transcript in the district’s database to flag schools with high instances of grade changes for further investigation. The review took months longer than originally targeted.