Updated at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2 to include a link to documents presented at the meeting.
Krum ISD school board members authorized further investigation into allegations of grade tampering at the high school as an external audit revealed several inconsistencies in its grading polices.
In a special meeting on Thursday night, representatives from Region 11 Education Services Center released the results of an audit into Krum ISD’s board policies, student handbook and grading software. Superintendent Cody Carroll requested the audit in October after several students and parents alleged that GPAs had been changed to benefit students related to administrators.
Region 11 employees said they spent 154 hours analyzing the grades and class rankings for the 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 senior classes from the time they entered eighth grade up until graduation. GPA policies are decided locally in Texas public schools, so auditors applied Krum’s grading software system to the top 15 students in each class and also crunched the numbers manually according to district policy.
Region 11 Executive Director Clyde Steelman noted that while his employees were thorough in their work, the scope of the audit was limited from the start.
“I want to be very clear in stating that our report does not determine malice or intent on the part of the school district or any employees,” he said. “We simply look for inconsistencies as they relate to the policies in place.”
Some of the inconsistencies outlined in the report included differences in how course weights were laid out in board policies, the student handbook and the course catalog. Region 11 communications coordinator Lori Burton told board members those deviations could be a source of confusion for students and parents and should be remedied.
Krum’s local GPA policies changed four times between the 2011-12 school year and the 2017-18 school year. Carroll said he would put together a presentation to explain the reasoning behind the changes for the next board meeting on Nov. 14.
Auditors said GPAs for each class were calculated in accordance with district policy with one exception occurring in the 2016 senior class. When those students were eighth-graders in 2012, their GPAs were counted incorrectly because of an error with the weighting of Algebra I.
Burton said someone in the district noticed the error and tried to fix it, but put the corrected GPAs in the wrong column so they weren’t calculated. When Region 11 calculated the GPAs by hand for that year, the ninth and 10th ranked students switched places but everyone else remained in their spot.
High school counselor Lindsey Oh gave a rundown of how grades and class ranks currently are determined on campus. She said teachers can go in and manually change a student’s grade average but must enter a unique four-digit code to save and submit grades. Once the grading period closes, any changes must go through the school’s public education information management system coordinator.
“Have we always done [grades like] that?” board member Brad Andrus asked. “Is that consistent with what other districts do?”
“I can’t speak to other districts, but I know previously being a teacher in another district, I had the right to do that,” Oh said. “Especially if I had an 89, 79 or 69 and wanted to bump it. That’s usually the case where you’ll see something like that happen.”
When GPAs and class ranks are calculated at the end of each semester, the two high school counselors and PEIMS coordinator spot-check to make sure the math checks out. Senior class ranks and GPAs are finalized at the end of the third nine-week period and Oh said the counselors and PEIMS coordinator check every student’s spot multiple times.
Carroll also tried to put to rest some rumors swirling around town at the meeting.
The allegations of grade changing first surfaced last year in response to high school principal Michelle Pieniazek’s daughter graduating as the class salutatorian. Some parents believed the girl jumped several ranks to the No. 2 spot, but Carroll said her transcripts show that she ranked third in her freshman class, fourth in her sophomore class and moved up to second by the end of her junior year when another student moved out of the district.
Some parents and students also have mentioned employees coercing students into signing non-disclosure statements, but Carroll said he hasn’t found any evidence of that.
“If there is anyone here or anyone that you know of that has any concrete evidence of this, please let me or a board member know,” he said.
Board members said the Region 11 audit was a good first step in remedying the scandal but stressed that further inquiries were needed — a move that drew applause from the audience of roughly 100 attendees.
The board unanimously approved a motion that authorized the district’s attorney to hire a third-party law firm to investigate the grade tampering allegations and interview individuals thought to be involved. Board member Sue Real said she was in favor of more investigation, but worried about the cost. Carroll estimated the extra inquiry could cost the district between $7,000 and $10,000.
“Every time we do this, we’re taking money out of the classroom,” Real said.
She tacked an amendment onto the motion setting a preliminary cap of $20,000, or roughly 8 percent of the district’s current revenue budget, for the investigation. If attorneys need more funds to complete the inquiry, they must approach the board again. The amendment passed unanimously.
“We’ve got to get to the bottom of this so that this community can come back together,” board president Eric Borchardt said.
Parents coming out of the meeting said they still had questions but were pleased with the direction the board was going.
“As someone that’s been a proponent of [an investigation] from the beginning, I’m hoping they find no wrongdoing,” parent Stephanie Powell said. “If they do, I hope that it’s quickly and swiftly dealt with.”
The district released documents from the meeting on Friday and can be found online here.