Posted on October 30, 2009

Bronx High School Changed Grades to Graduate More Students

Anna Phillips, GothamSchools, October 28, 2090

The principal of the Bronx’s Herbert Lehman High School is charged with changing students’ failing grades to passing.

Teachers are accusing a Bronx high school principal hired with a $25,000 bonus to improve the school’s academics of instead transforming the school into a “diploma mill.”

Transcripts given to GothamSchools by current and former teachers show that in the last year, dozens of students at Herbert Lehman High School have been given credit for courses they failed or never took.

In some instances, a student failed a class, passed the Regents exam by a slim margin, and then had his failing grade overturned. In others, students were given two credits for a class they passed once, or for classes that never appeared on their schedules.

Changing students’ grades is commonplace in the city’s schools and is often done by principals and teachers for legitimate reasons. In some cases, students are given credit recovery, meaning they complete a project, make up work, or re-take part of a class in order to get a passing grade. Other times, students who are on the cusp of passing a class can receive a boost from a Regents exam they passed by a substantial margin.

But teachers said that at Lehman, students are getting credit without doing any work. Dozens of students have had their failing grades overturned without their teachers’ knowledge.


Under Pressure

Long considered to be one of the city’s best remaining behemoth high schools, Lehman has had a checkered past. At the end of the 2007-08 school year, Lehman’s veteran principal [Robert] Leder resigned after investigators found that he had paid two assistant football coaches overtime wages while they were at home.

Leder’s replacement, [Janet] Saraceno, arrived the next fall from the High School for Media and Communications, where she was principal. As part of a Department of Education program to lure principals to the city’s most challenging schools, she was given a bonus and the title “executive principal.” At the time, this perplexed more than a few parents and teachers, who told the city’s daily newspapers that they couldn’t understand why a school with a “B” on its latest report card needed to offer its new principal an extra $25,000 a year.

According to current and former teachers, Saraceno methodically set about increasing the school’s 47 percent graduation rate by changing students’ grades from failing to passing over the objections of their teachers and, in some instances, in violation of state regulations.


Grade changing is not an entirely foreign phenomenon at Lehman. Teachers who worked under Leder said he sometimes asked them to change student athletes’ grades if their grade point average slipped below the minimum required for them to play, or if a student was mere points away from passing a class. But that process involved conversations with teachers in which Leder persuaded them to sign the paperwork, they said. Today, failing grades disappear from transcripts without warning, teachers said.


Not long after Saraceno came to Lehman, “CRs”–Department of Education jargon for credit recovery–began popping up on students’ transcripts, replacing failing grades, several former and current teachers said.

In one case, a student failed a math class in the spring of 2006. More than two years later, in the fall of Saraceno’s first year as principal, the student’s grade was changed from a 55 to a “CR.”

Documents show that the reason given for the change was that the student had passed his Regents exam with a score of 69.

According to state education guidelines, a passing Regents score can counteract a failing course grade. But not just any passing Regents score can pull up a failing course grade; a student’s two grades are averaged together, with the Regents score counting for a third, and the student only passes if the final product is above 65.


A former teacher said that when she protested the grade change, Saraceno said she’d never seen the document and that her signature was only a stamp.


Giving Credit Where Credit Is Not Due

Transcripts obtained by GothamSchools show other ways students were given credits they didn’t earn. In one case, a student’s report card showed that he took three English classes in the fall of 2008, passing all of them. However, on his transcript, he was given credit for having taken six English classes that semester. Next to the three courses that never appeared on his report card and that he never actually sat in were three “CRs.”

This same student failed English 6 and then retook the class, passing it the second time. While this was done in accordance with department guidelines, what happened next was not: The student was given two credits, as though he had passed two different classes.


A list of grade changes provided to GothamSchools also shows that students who were constantly truant had their grades changed to passing ones or “CRs,” with reasons like “teacher’s request” or “home instruction” given. Leder said that while he was principal, no student with a grade of 45–meaning the student was almost never in school–was eligible for credit recovery, but that has changed in the last year.


Transcripts also show that Lehman students were given credit for taking after-school classes, which are a common way for schools to offer credit recovery. But at Lehman, records show that some students were given credit for taking after-school classes that teachers say the school never offered. In one case, two students were given credit for taking an after-school math class. Two math teachers who worked at Lehman that year said the class was never taught after school, though they could not produce documents to substantiate the claim.


Former math teachers said Saraceno also changed their department’s grading policy, making it so that 25 percent of a student’s grade came from special assignments and projects. Previously, projects could only count for 10 percent. Teachers said students quickly caught on and would come to them, begging for projects.


A Changed School

Lehman teachers say the school is now wrapped in a gloom its students and staff hadn’t experienced under Leder, who served as principal for 29 years.


A former math teacher who now works at another Bronx high school returned to Lehman recently and found it a changed place.

“The hallways are just sad and depressing,” she said. “No one is making anything, putting up any work, and the bulletin boards are all empty and the classrooms are not neat. It felt like a different place. The kids were like dude, you don’t even know.”

3000 E Tremont Ave

Bronx, NY 10461

(718) 904-4200

Public | Grades 5, 9-12, US | New York City Geographic District # 8

New York virtual private school

About Herbert H Lehman High School

Herbert H Lehman High School is located in Bronx, NY and is one of 44 schools in New York City Geographic District # 8. It is a public school that serves 4286 students in grades 5, 9-12, US.

Herbert H Lehman High School made AYP in 2006. Under No Child Left Behind, a school makes Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) if it achieves the minimum levels of improvement determined by the state of New York in terms of student performance and other accountability measures. See Herbert H Lehman High School’s test results to learn more about school performance.

In 2007, Herbert H Lehman High School had 19 students for every full-time equivalent teacher. The New York average is 13 students per full-time equivalent teacher. {snip}

Herbert H Lehman High School Student Diversity

Students by Ethnicity (2007)

* Hispanic 58 %

* Black 23 %

* White 12 %

* Asian/Pacific Islander 6 %

* American Indian/Alaskan Native 1 %