A nationally recognized San Diego charter school dedicated to preparing students from low-income families for college is trying to salvage its reputation after accusations of grade-fixing.
The Preuss School, hosted by the University of California at San Diego, is one of the top 10 ranked schools in America.
The school's founding principal, Doris Alvarez, resigned in December after a six-month audit found that not only did she know of inappropriate grade changes, but she also may have directed them.
The audit was precipitated by allegations of grade-fixing last spring, said Paul Drake, Senior Vice Chancellor at UCSD.
"The audit found among about 200 transcripts, about 427 incorrectly recorded grades — for multiple reasons: human error, computer mistakes, maybe some intentionality, but they were never able to exactly prove who had done what or why," Drake said.
Two-thirds of the grade changes improved the student's transcript, he said, while one-third had no effect or made the student's record worse, leaving many unanswered questions.
The audit also cites anonymous charges by some teachers that Alvarez had pressured them to raise grades.
Alvarez, an award-winning veteran educator, says allegations of grade-fixing simply aren't true.
"I would never pressure a teacher to change a grade because that would not benefit the student. My goal has always been that we prepare the students and that is not preparing the students if you give them a grade they do not deserve. So that allegation is absolutely false and there is no evidence presented in the audit that said I did this," she said.
Though Alvarez resigned, she's challenging the competence of the auditors. She's not alone — a group of UCSD faculty with no connection to Preuss as well as the Preuss Board of Directors say the audit's methodology is flawed.
"If a single grade was changed either due to accident or intent to tamper with grades, either of those changes is completely unacceptable," Economics Professor Julian Betts, who is on the board, said. "But I think it makes a big difference to the people who stand accused in this case, particularly the former principal, as to whether there was human error here or whether there was intent. And I don't think the audit really proves intent in any way."
UCSD continues to stand behind the audit and plans to hire an outside consulting firm to review the school's operations, according to Drake.
The Preuss School was created eight years ago in response to Proposition 209, a voter-approved measure banning affirmative action. Drake said UCSD was looking for a way to create a more diversified student body without using quotas or special favors for a particular group.
"So we thought we could diversify the student body by making more students from poor backgrounds eligible for the University of California," he says. "Ninety percent of the students coming out of Preuss have gotten into colleges. So we consider it a great success."
Some Preuss students worry that the grade scandal will affect their chances for college.
"I try so hard here and I work so hard here and I don't want people to judge me," senior Jasmine Harris said. "And people are looking at us in that sense that we haven't worked hard here. I don't know, it just hurts me just really bad."
Her classmate, Alda Migoni, is defiant.
"We've heard all these allegations and all these things about our school," she said. "I think it brought our graduating class closer, and we defend each other and we defend our school."