HISD Investigators Says Hope Academy Charter School Fiddled With Grades and Courses

Here's a lesson in how to improve your high school graduation rate. In lab circles it's called graphite analysis – you achieve the results you want with no actual research or testing, just a sharpened pencil put to paper.

Unfortunately for 19 of 21 seniors expecting to graduate from high school this week, someone asked Hope Charter Academy (“Home of the Soaring Eagles!”) to show its work. After an audit of grading and course records, Houston ISD investigators say that as of May 29, only two students were eligible to walk the stage – in what looks to be a very short and somber ceremony.

Besides the devastated group of seniors and their families, students in lower grades at the school also were being told that their course credits are suspect. Failing grades were changed to passing, students were put in courses they'd already received credit for, and students were scheduled into local courses that don't count toward graduation requirements.

As a result, HISD is now moving to break all ties with Hope Academy, saying it wants a termination of its contracts. In all, 68 student records were reviewed and 35 of those reflected 51 irregularities.  HISD investigators said they could not find any documentation to support the changes that were being made at the school on North MacGregor.  

The team, made up of retired HISD district registrar Nancy Curry, district registrar Cynthia Nemons and manager of student records Brita Lindsey, said that eight of the seniors may be eligible for graduation if a committee, acting under recently passed Senate Bill 149, reviews their records and finds that although these eight kids have failed up to two of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness end-of-course exams, they should still graduate.

In its review of junior records, the team reported: “Of the five randomly chosen records, four reflect semester averages that are neither supported by documentation nor are they mathematically possible based on the data in the SIS [Student Information System] grade file.

“Hope Academy was not able to produce teacher grade books or any other form of documentation to support the grade changes or semester averages.”

The team looked at the records the kids had at their previous schools and found no irregularities – meaning that Hope didn't inherit these problems but created them.

One student, for instance, had records showing he'd completed courses at an out-of-district school at the same time he attended an HISD school. “It has been determined, with the assistance of the Federal & State Compliance Department, the student actually completed two years at an HISD school and two additional years at two different out-of-district schools, however all four years were entered by Hope Academy as being completed at Willowridge High School.”

It didn't get better when the audit team delved into the sophomore students' records, the report says, where they uncovered the same pattern of undocumented course deletions, credit restorations and grade changes.

The recommendation to terminate goes before the board June 11. Think we can count on a 9-0 vote on this one. And never were more true words spoken than Hope Academy's motto: "Your academic success is a HOPE away!"

Wonder if they teach the meaning of irony in their English Lit courses there. 

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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