Preparing for College

Un-Helpful Parents

Just when you think you've seen it all, a news story like this comes along:

Mom charged with changing kids' grades

HUNTINGDON [Pennsylvania] - A Huntingdon County mom was charged with illegally changing her daughter's grades and test scores while working as a secretary at Huntingdon Area High School.

The Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation charged Caroline Maria McNeal, 39, of 6237 Tuscarora Drive with 29 counts of unlawful use of a computer and 29 counts of tampering with public records, which are third-degree felonies punishable by up to seven years in prison and $15,000 in fines.

McNeal allegedly changed grades in a school computer system to improve her daughter's class standing.

Attorney General Tom Corbett said Thursday that McNeal used co-workers' passwords without their knowledge to access the computer system from May 2006 to July 2007.

McNeal allegedly increased her daughter Brittany's grades and test scores, while reducing scores for two of her classmates.

Brittany McNeal is not charged with any wrongdoing.

School officials said they corrected the alleged alterations before the students graduated.

McNeal surrendered to agents from the Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation and was preliminarily arraigned before Huntingdon Magisterial District Judge Richard S. Wilt.

She was released on her own recognizance pending the scheduling of a preliminary hearing.

Now, that maneuver will be really helpful for that family's kids, won't it? DUH!

Here's some more detail from another news account:

Mr. Corbett said, "Tampering with official records for personal or family gain is a serious violation of the public trust. Our citizens depend on people in public positions, including school employees, to protect the safety and security of these records and not use confidential information for their own benefit."

The first clue that something was amiss came when a high school guidance office employee in fall 2007 noticed that the SAT college entrance exam score in the school computer for Ms. McNeal's daughter was higher than the one sent by the College Board, 1730 vs. 1370.

Further investigation showed the girl's grades had been altered about 193 times in 24 courses between May 30, 2006 and July 12, 2007, covering school years from 2003-04 through 2006-07.

Many of the changes boosted grades that were already in the 90s, such as changing an accelerated social studies term grade from 94 to 95 and a family and consumer sciences final grade from 98 to 100.

In some cases, the increase was significant, such as raising an exam grade in advanced algebra from 69 to 94.

Officials also determined that the grades of two other girls had been reduced. The girls had higher class ranks than Ms. McNeal's daughter did before the grades were altered.

According to the affidavit, the grades of the two girls were changed by a couple of percentage points, such as reducing one's advanced algebra grade for one term from 96 to 94 and the other's accelerated English grade for a term from 96 to 93.

Mr. Corbett said the school district corrected any unauthorized changes before the affected students graduated.

Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the attorney general, said no other arrests are anticipated and that there is no evidence to believe that the secretary's daughter or husband had any knowledge grades were being altered.

He also said there was no evidence that the grade changes helped or hindered college admission for the girls.

Such cases are infrequent but not unheard of, said Dick Flanary, senior director for leadership programs and services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

"I think most schools and leaders and districts at least work to ensure the sanctity and legitimacy of grades so that doesn't happen. But ultimately, if someone wants to alter that, particularly in a school setting, they're going to find a way to do that," he said.

Grade software programs boast of high levels of security to protect against tampering, but ultimately, the systems depend on the trust of authorized users.

The system used in Huntingdon Area tracked what changes were made, when and by whom.

In the Huntingdon Area case, employees shared their user names and passwords on the district's software.

The changes in question were made under four different names -- including the defendant's. Except for five cases, the changes were made from the computer terminal assigned to Ms. McNeal, according to the affidavit. Several secretaries and guidance counselors said they had given Ms. McNeal their passwords while on vacation or leave.

Moms and Dads: If you want to help your kids succeed in school, make them do their homework, spend time with them discussing their classes, and put reasonable limits on the time they spend texting, Facebooking, and MySpacing. Get involved . . . not arraigned.

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