Top school accused of cheating the city’s system

The “best school” in the Bronx may not be what it seems after all.

Officials at the Theatre Arts Production Company School, which recently received the highest score of all schools in the city, have been accused of cheating on the city’s grade system and creating an environment where teachers are encouraged to inflate grades and pass students as long as they show up for classes.

“I got 22 or 23 percent in science class, but then I got a 65 for the course. They just give me the grades I need anyways,” said a junior at the school, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s like I don’t need to go to school. I’ll get credit anyways. They gave me perfect attendance and I’ve missed like 19 days.”

On Wednesday, January 19, the Department of Education revealed it is investigating how grades are awarded and whether records were changed to improve student attendance statistics following an anonymous complaint filed with the DOE’s Office of Special Investigations in October.

The investigation could lead to numerous outcomes, including firing the school’s principal Lynn Passarella.

The school, which has about 500 students and roughly 45 faculty and staff members, was one off two schools that ranked in the 100th percentile in the DOE’s 2010-2011 school report card released at the end of 2010. It had the highest overall score with 106.3.

“We take every allegation of misconduct seriously, and hope that the public can reserve judgement until an investigation is complete,” said DOE spokesman Matthew Mittenthal. “From time to time we see changes in the schools data or trends that warrant a closer look, and we contact the school to verify its data. In a number of cases we have found errors, yielding a different progress report grade than a school would otherwise have received.”

A teacher at the school, who also asked not to be named, said the allegations are not surprising.

While graduation rates are high – at 93 percent, with 100 percent of graduates getting accepted to college – word is that most students drop out before the end of the first year, the teacher said.

“They don’t know how to handle the work,” the teacher said, adding that untenured teachers are more fearful of getting fired if they do not inflate grades. “I used to wake up every morning, so happy to come in to work. Now there’s a pit in my stomach. It could be a diamond in the rough, but it’s turning into a piece of coal.”

According to reports, the school has a policy asking teachers to make sure that 30 percent of a glass earns A’s, 40 percent gets B’s, 25 percent receives C’s and no more than five percent get D’s. Students are allegedly not able to fail unless they do not attend classes.

Regardless of the outcome, the unidentified junior hopes to spend her senior year at another school.

“It’s like a family. We do feel welcome here. You know you’ll have friends for life, but what will you have to show for it?” the student said, adding she hopes to attended college after high school. “If I graduate from here, I’ll be scared to death.”

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