No. Branford cleared of grade tampering

Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — A report from the state Attorney General’s Office concludes that no widespread grade tampering or manipulation took place at North Branford High School — although there were a handful of questionable circumstances in the last few years in which failing students were allowed to graduate.

The report, released Wednesday, stems from allegations that some teachers and former high school Principal David Perry made several months ago. In July, Perry told WTNH-Channel 8 that Superintendent of Schools Robert Wolfe had directed him to change students’ grades in order to allow them to graduate.

But Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s report found there was no evidence of “pervasive ongoing improper grade manipulation or grade tampering at North Branford High School.” The investigation did say that “improper administratively directed grade changes involving at least two students occurred in 2001 and 2004,” but the contradictory statements from Perry and Wolfe made it impossible to determine who had decided to change the students’ grades.

In highlighting the incidents in 2001 and 2004, the report coincides with another one produced by the Berchem, Moses & Devlin law firm at the request of the Board of Education. That report said of the same two situations that they “appear to be most serious in terms of a student receiving a grade which the student may in fact not have earned, and being permitted to graduate as a result of that grade.”

Wolfe said he thinks this report should resolve the concerns.

“The attorney general clearly says there’s no systematic grade tampering,” Wolfe said. “Out of over 1,000 kids who graduated, we highlighted two cases and we’ve come down to my word against the principal’s word, so where else can it go?”

Stephen Wright, an attorney for Perry, could not be reached for comment.

Blumenthal said he will continue to work with the state Department of Education and state Legislature to implement some of the report’s recommendations, which include establishing clear guidelines regarding grade changes for high schools throughout the state.

“The investigation is complete, but the recommendations involve action at the state as well as local level,” Blumenthal said. “There should be some basic standards and procedures in common and they should be consistent and fair.”

The report’s recommendations also say that administrators, teachers, students, parents and other community members should work together to establish clear grading policies; and school administrators should “avoid usurping teachers’ judgments” or changing grades against teachers’ wishes.

The North Branford school district has already taken steps to ensure that improper situations do not occur again, Wolfe said. The district has formalized the system for grading so that teachers and administrators have to sign off on any changes and a new computer system will maintain a trail of changes.

In addition to the situations in 2001 and 2004, the report found three other examples of “possible improper grade changes.” Those instances were less serious because investigators found evidence that students did work to improve their grades.

The report also found that “there was insufficient evidence to conclude that there was a general or explicit policy that all students would graduate with their graduating class,” which had been suggested as a reason for administrators to pressure teachers to change grades.

Wolfe said he would still like the state Attorney General’s Office to release the names of the people interviewed for the report. Blumenthal said his office will “consider his request.”

“One of my concerns about this report is that this report does not identify where factual information came from or who they interviewed,” Wolfe said.

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