BEAVER DAM, Ariz. — Meeting the criteria for graduation is a priority for high school seniors, but each year a small percentage don’t make it. Mark Coleman, principal of Beaver Dam High School and superintendent of Littlefield Unified School District, said he was stunned this year when he had to withhold diplomas from over 40 percent of the graduating class for what he termed “scoring irregularities,” discovered just days before graduation.
While 31 seniors were set to graduate Friday, May 23, diplomas were not awarded to 13 students in the class because of students apparently changing scores in the district computer system using a stolen username and password. This allowed them to log into the system and change grades and completed work records.
Following a meeting on a Monday, during which three students were informed their chances of graduation were low due to failure to complete an online class, one of the three came back the next day and the computer showed he had made up practically all his work in one night. Coleman called that the red flag that started the investigation.
Coleman said all the affected students eventually came clean about the score changing.
The students were not allowed to walk with their classmates at the graduation ceremony, but Coleman said the students are willing to work to earn their diplomas.
“They were all honest with me, so we provided them with the opportunity to still get diplomas,” he said.
“A couple of them have already enrolled in classes,” Coleman added, “and the other ones are willing to come back and do what they need to do. A few of them are only one class away. We’re not going to penalize them forever for making a poor choice in one particular class.”
As to how the students were able to get into the computer system, Coleman said:
They got pretty creative, you know. If you’re sitting at your desk, they can stand behind you and hold their cell phone up in the air and do the video piece. We’ve figured out how to correct that one for the future, so that won’t be an issue anymore.
St. George News columnist Geoff Steurer, a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, said the best thing for the parents to do is accept the judgment of the school and let the students involved face up to their mistakes.
“Their schoolwork is a contract and agreement between them and their teachers,” Steurer said. “I think that the parents can support both sides by holding the kid accountable and letting them face it by supporting the school. I think it’s important for the parents to get out of the way and allow the process to work.”
While the parents may feel blame and guilt, Steurer said, it’s just something that needs to run its course.
“If this was my kid,” Steurer said, “as much as I’d want to protect him and help him and support him, I’d just have him sit with the consequences. Every parent is going to have to really make sure that their kid has the appropriate healthy guilt and accountability and remorse so that changes can be made.”
The Littlefield Unified School District will be discussing this matter at a school board meeting June 11 at 5 p.m. MST.
“I’m an educator,” Coleman said. “My job is to educate kids, adults and people in this community. We feel the kids will learn something. They didn’t get a chance to walk across the stage when they wanted to, but they still have an opportunity to earn a diploma. We are prepared to help them if they are prepared to make the right choices.”
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