The Palm Beach County School Board was planned to fire a Forest Hill High School teacher on Wednesday, after an investigation discovered that he had changed more than 18,000 grades in the district’s online learning programs over a two-year period.
Forest Hills’ former principal, Mary Stratos, says she first alerted investigators and transferred the teacher, Randy Whidden, from supervising classes with access to the online programs, as soon as she found out about the situation in 2018.
The 66-year-old Whidden, who has been with the district for seven years, continued to teach there during the investigation.
“In his mind he’s helping kids,” Stratos said. Instead, she said, he was hurting them. “We shut it down,” Stratos says.
The online course results that investigators say Whidden change are contained within a set of programs known as Edgenuity.
Access to Edgenuity was abused in a similar fashion three years ago at Seminole Ridge High School.
In that case, the district’s Inspector General’s office concluded that an assistant principal at the school changed grades on hundreds of assignments in the credit recovery class. At least 13 students went on to graduate from the high school with the altered grades.
Social and emotional health is more important than ever, so what steps can you take to help yourself, your colleagues, and your students right now? #SEL #tipsforteachers https://t.co/cp7fIhRHQr pic.twitter.com/VTBqeTLnqY
— Edgenuity (@EdgenuityInc) May 19, 2020
Assistant Principal Randy Burden told investigators that he did know how to change a grade, and suggested that students could have gone into the system when he stepped out of the room without logging off, according to the report.
However, the investigators found that explanation “incredulous” and “not plausible.”
Despite Burden’s claim that he did not know how to change a grade, experts found that he did it 256 times in two years. Only 11 of the instances had a reason or justification noted within the records. Scores increased from zero to 95 in four insurances.
The district’s audit committee recently began looking into the grade-changing situation in Edgenuity.
A report issued to the school board last month concluded that “access controls to Edgenuity system need improvement.”
While reviewing access, the committee reported that it found 14 people who do not work for the district, as well as 144 former employees, had the online credentials needed to change student records in the system.
In addition, around 25 people who changed jobs within the district still had access to student records granted to them in their last job.
The investigators also found that 65 percent of Edgenuity grade changes were done without valid justification.