News

Investigation finds high school transcripts in order

Paly student's transcript alteration was one-time event, district says

The online transcripts of seniors at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools are in order, the Palo Alto school district announced Monday following an investigation of possible transcript fraud.

The investigation was launched last month after a Paly student was found to have gained online access to alter a transcript. The student did so by using a staff member's password, the district said.

In a subsequent investigation of all senior transcripts, "No evidence was found that other students were involved," the district said in a statement Monday.

"All transcript changes for the Class of 2014 at both high schools were reviewed and, with the exception of the individual in question, no other incidents of non-staff members making changes were found," the statement reads.

The transcript probe began around Feb. 20, when the district acknowledged that there had been an incident at Paly involving "an individual student gaining access to their own transcript and making changes."

The district said it took "appropriate action" in imposing consequences on the student, "including notification to the appropriate educational institutions."

"Steps have been taken to ensure that this problem does not repeat itself at Paly or at any other school in the district," the district said Monday.

Chris Kenrick

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 3:29 pm

The State needs to step in and declare this sort of malfeasance as a misdemeanor crime--so that real consequences will result from this sort of mischief.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Willy
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Altering transcripts is a Federal, State and local crime. Altering official records/documents, birth certificates, licenses, transcripts are all violations.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Call the FBI
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

It needs to be said that this girl committed a federal crime that can be, and usually is, heavily prosecuted regardless of youth. The fact that she confessed that others before her had done it is scary. She should not have gotten off so easy; at the very, very least she should have been expelled and not allowed to graduate.

Kevin Skelly was actually required BY LAW to report this hacking to the FBI, according to my former FBI spouse, in which case she would have been seriously interrogated and imprisoned until trial.

Actually, due to Skelly's failure to report it, he can also be legally held liable and forced to appear in court on charges of aiding and abetting a criminal, as well as for simply failing to report a federal crime to the FBI. Could this have. Even why he resigned when he did, to avoid the inevitable brouhaha?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by publish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Call,

Skelly is the one who caught her?

I would imagine that there is more than one person involved here, and all adults would be equally responsible.

What about the cases before her?

It would not hurt to have students sign a "terms and conditions" regarding grade fraud. You get caught, we call the police, if the adults actually followed through with the law.





 +   Like this comment
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2014 at 6:06 pm

It is sad to see the lack of ethics in some of our youth. Make that, some parents, too.
I think they should have come down like a ton of bricks on this crime, this is premeditated cheating and may have damaged other students'chances at various university slots. It certainly does not put the name "Palo Alto" in a good light. I am offended.
I bet the lawyer parents got the student off easy. It is all too often a big, competitive "race" in our high schools here, and honest students suffer. You know, the ends justify the means.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2014 at 8:12 am

Weekly Editor: Perhaps this story should be categorized in Town Square under "School & Kids" instead of "Crimes & Incidents." Thanks for your consideration of this.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2014 at 10:34 am

What about the staff member who apparently provided the necessary password? Or how was the password obtained?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Takes me back
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2014 at 10:36 am

Thought I lived in Palo Alto, seems more like Salem MA.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2014 at 10:55 am

Just goes to show what kind of pressure our kids are under to do well...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ex Officio
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2014 at 12:55 pm

According to the Daily Post, the girl now climbs there were no other hackers. The colleges she applied to were notified of her hacking and grade changes. She has refused to reveal, however, how she obtained a staff pass code. PAUSD claims the staff member did not share it or post it anywhere, and that the reach was highly sophisticated.

[Portion removed.]

She did commit a federal crime, though, and should word of this get around to the proper authorities, she and Kevin Skelly are in waist-deep doo-doo. Maybe he was too embarrassed to report it?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ex Officio
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Apparently, the girl was caught when someone ( not Skelly) checked the paper transcript book and found discrepancies between the handwritten grades and the computer grades.

All Kevin Skelly did was to suspend her for a few days. He was required by law, because it is a federal crime to hack into a school computer, to report this to the police and probably the FBI or Justice Dept. His failure to do so will bite him back sooner or later.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ex Officio
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2014 at 4:30 pm

I hope I am wrong, that this girl acted alone, but I can't stop wondering if she had "help", in particular, adult or parental help


 +   Like this comment
Posted by publish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Ex Officio

"Apparently, the girl was caught when someone ( not Skelly) checked the paper transcript book and found discrepancies between the handwritten grades and the computer grades."

What is a paper transcript book?

There is a paper transcript for every student?

It's actually very odd that someone would become suspicious to check for this cheating without some other way of becoming suspicious. This makes this story mysterious!

And how are parents or the community supposed to come down on this like a "ton of bricks" without information, but now that it's out in the open, isn't it up to the police and the FBI to pursue the crime?

I doubt they would go after the girl though, and would let all the responsible adults off the hook if they do nothing to her. We're all stuck with the raging admin incompetence.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ex Officio
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 18, 2014 at 6:44 pm

There may be an old-fashioned transcript book made out of paper for each student, I don't know for sure, I read this in a prior article in the Daily Post. Apparently, there is a book that teachers hand-post grades in, from which the grades are posted into the computer. Perhaps they randomly or regularly check the book against the computer, or maybe some suspicion was aroused, but someone checked the computer grades against the handwritten one and there were some big discrepancies.

The important thing is that this is an unreported federal crime. And it is another crime in itself NOT to report it. It was Kevin Skelly's job, as Superintwndent, to report this crime to the proper authorities, which were the police and proba ly the FBI, the US Marshals, and/or the Justice Dept.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by publish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Ex Officio,

I am interested in HOW this happened because it speaks to a lot of weird weird WEIRD stuff that may be going on with the schools. For starters, the "old-fashioned transcript book made out of paper for each student." Do teachers walk over to an office and log in their grades on this paper book? At the end of the year, or every term?

The idea that there is no other way of securing and verifying transcripts is bizarre, and that this girl got "caught" because of a random check?

It seems more likely that this girl had some unusual and possibly improper connection with the office (which is adult responsibility), and someone who knew about it caught her and the bad dynamic which allowed her to do what she did. But whoever caught her must have checked her records with her teachers, not the "old-fashioned transcript book made out of paper for each student" which I kind of doubt exists, as there are better ways to secure and verify transcripts in 2014.

Whoever turned her is just as responsible as Skelly for not reporting it to the FBI.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Paly teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Enough is enough. I teach at Paly. There is no paper transcript book. They're all in the computer. Most teachers don't even keep a paper gradebook. We submit our grades electronically by "posting" them to IC. People seem to be making up stuff and acting like they know what is going on. You don't know. Stop guessing and putting it out as fact.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Yes
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 18, 2014 at 8:02 pm

"The important thing is that this is an unreported federal crime. And it is another crime in itself NOT to report it. It was Kevin Skelly's job, as Superintwndent, to report this crime to the proper authorities, which were the police and probably the FBI, the US Marshals, and/or the Justice Dept."

"Actually, due to Skelly's failure to report it, he can also be legally held liable and forced to appear in court on charges of aiding and abetting a criminal, as well as for simply failing to report a federal crime to the FBI. Could this have. Even why he resigned when he did, to avoid the inevitable brouhaha?"


First, I'm sure the US Marshals, FBI, Justice Dept (plus ATF? Treasury? Secret Service? Homeland Security?), etc. are keen to weigh in on a student changing her grade in a Palo Alto high school. Hopefully they monitor these boards to detect these unreported incidents, or one of our vigilant citizens will drop a dime on this to get the ball rolling. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty!

And I'm also sure that Dr. Skelly's departure has more to do with this "inevitable brouhaha" (love that) than, say, the fact that his youngest child graduates from high school this year and the incessant criticism of his performance by some community members. It is lucky for him that he has those excuses to cloak his true motive.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Truth
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2014 at 1:10 am

This ought to be a signal to Principal Diorio that some of the teachers at Paly are just too difficult with their grading. It's mostly the younger teachers who are too passionate about their subject and assign too much homework. They have no problem giving out "C"s, even when the work is fairly good and the student is conscientious about academics. There are also those teachers who only give out 1-3 "A"s per class. These teachers don't realize the implications of poor grades - they don't care that they can affect where a student attends college. They are control freaks.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Coping
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 20, 2014 at 8:53 am

Parents get their children through the system with tutoring and parents doing the homework. Too much stress at Paly. Students have no time to relax.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by publish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2014 at 12:52 pm


Inevitably, it seems whenever a grading topic comes up, there is comment about parents doing homework for their kids.

How is this even sustainable? Maybe some parents are real pros at this, and have all the time in the world to do homework, but it has to be a fraction of the general population.

You can't take a test in High School Math if your parents do all your homework, and same for Science. In History, you can't learn if you don't do the readings. Maybe parents read to their kids? That would be more contact between a high school kid and their parents than is actually realistic. In High School, the usual conversation starts with "leave me alone", not honey how are "we" doing homework today. English supposedly has a lot of parent involvement, and maybe international students get help from tutors, but this would easily be solved if writing is done in the classroom.

This complaint of parent involvement is getting old. Teachers should not be grade punishers to get back at certain parents.

When teachers are unfair graders (for whatever resentments or power plays), it breeds a general culture of cheating because they are leading the way with random unfair rules to begin with. Usually these same teachers have "favorites" and the kids see through that.

The word is usually that teachers see it all and know it all. Well, the students see it all, and may know even more.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by former PALY parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2014 at 1:55 pm

@publish: what they do is not do the teens' homework (that is WAY too simplistic and I assume wouldn't work that well), but rather they have extensive year-round private, costly tutoring IN ADVANCE of the specific curriculum.
One of my kids also witnessed a nanny/tutor dictating a paper to a teen who ended up as a National Merit Finalist. My kid was a bit shocked and realized that the playing field is not level in peer competition here.
By the way, it is SUPPOSED to be learning/one's education. Ethical and honest behavior and trying one's best, to be sure, ought to be promoted, but some students are managed like a secret business project!
Some of it is strategic with these Tiger Mom tactics and strategies and plans: optimize their time (as opposed to having the kid figure out his/her own schedule, learn through experience, trial and error, studying and so on), and some is adult-level strategizing in terms of costly private tutoring centers such as ones that used to exist (maybe still do?) in Cupertino, "guaranteeing" admission to Ivy League, Stanford and etc.
When the teen student is organized and managed like a "project" by a Tiger Mom, then advantages indeed accrue over time, even if the teen does have to take the SAT (he has taken it multiple times, starting before it counts, in middle school, something he wouldn't have been aware of to consider doing if Tiger Mom had not required it...); he has to take the Math test at school but has been thoroughly and perfectly prepped and the planning is pretty incredible.
Certain families have all the texts (from advanced courses, make no mistake) so they get their kids to study them in advance, which they share with select others when they are done with them. One of my kids witnessed this and asked me as the parent to go to the district and see if I could obtain a text for the next year; I did inquire out of curiousity and was met with surprise by someone in the curriculum dept. - why those aren't out there in advance - yet, they WERE - we knew people with them on the bookshelf!
With these and other steps, there is a built-in advantage favoring the project kid over the one who makes his/her own mistakes, choices and exhibits a bit of personality and character. Some kids are coached to lie about having tutors; we witnessed this, too.
Ends justifies the means; why should we be surprised some are cheating. Sad.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by all that glitters
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 20, 2014 at 2:04 pm

"One of my kids witnessed this and asked me as the parent to go to the district and see if I could obtain a text for the next year; "

You can do this. You don't need permission. Just go to the year ahead and see what books they are using. Most are even advertised.
Though your categorization as a "secret business project" isn't necessarily correct. Part of this is also reducing pressure. It's not always about getting top marks. The child has appropriate support and can enjoy school if they are familiar with the content. You also don't need tutors.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by publish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2014 at 3:40 pm

former Paly parent

"Some of it is strategic with these Tiger Mom tactics and strategies and plans: optimize their time (as opposed to having the kid figure out his/her own schedule, learn through experience, trial and error, studying and so on), and some is adult-level strategizing in terms of costly private tutoring centers such as ones that used to exist (maybe still do?) in Cupertino, "guaranteeing" admission to Ivy League, Stanford and etc."

You covered a lot of stuff that still should not give teachers an excuse to become grade punishers.

Isn't every parent "strategic" about education, no matter what achievement level (struggling or high achieving kids)? Many are willing to do the work ahead, and have the ability to be a "project management" story, but many parents choose to not do that.

The best way to regulate the mad rush is with lanes. And the best way to eliminate the problem is to get rid of laning. Grade punishment solves nothing, except it causes anxiety, mistrust, cheating, and all the nonsense.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Grade punishes? Really. Never, ever heard of this one. Lived here all my life (except for college) and had two kids graduate Paly within the last four years. This is ridiculous.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by publish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

Grade deflation is probably a better name. The arguments against it are the potential problems of grade inflation. Both extremes are obviously not good.

My comment was to make the point that when grading comes up, there is always a comment about parents doing homework, tutoring or cheating. My take is that there is a connection between cheating and anxiety about grading, and motley grading practices. The vicious circle of teachers frustrated with cheaters, and parents doing homework would be reduced if the grading practices were more even, and fair. Unfair grading is punishing in a high stress school.

My other point was that not everyone is engaged in the project management of their kids, and to the extent that they are, these are personal choices which should have nothing to do with grading.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2014 at 7:30 am

I've seen homework projects where parents have helped...middle school display boards perhaps.

I seriously doubt parents are doing homework for AP Calculus, etc.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm

@Crescent Park Dad: Publish is correct in saying that some teachers grade too hard so they increase the chances of cheating. I've lived here my whole life too and academics weren't as rigorous back in the day. Our students are working hard for "B"s now and it affects college acceptances. If all the students are doing well, why dole out only a small portion of "A"s? To your comment: "I seriously doubt parents are doing homework", life doesn't revolve around YOUR experiences. Any homework that comes home (besides world language and math) can be completed by parents (including those with PhDs and masters degrees).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by publish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2014 at 11:45 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

"I seriously doubt parents are doing homework for AP Calculus, etc."

I also have my doubts about the sustainability of parents doing homework in high school, but there are very capable parents and tutors. I can see a fraction of parents or tutors occasionally over extending their hand to bail out busy students, actually to spare them a bad grade. As former PALY parent points out, there is also the issue of "costly tutoring IN ADVANCE of the specific curriculum."

These may all be just claims of a culture of homework cheating by parents and students, and only claims about grading issues, but they do always come up together, as if one excuses the other.

It's likely that there are parents/students who cheat, and teachers who are sloppy graders, but both of these, in any measure, contribute to grade anxiety, which is punishing in a high achieving school where most kids actually care.

In our experience the best teachers have not been the tough graders. Must be that there is more learning when anxiety is lower, or when there is a sense of fairness.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 24, 2014 at 11:19 am

There is no denying that there is a subset of Paly students who cheat when taking exams or turning in papers, etc. One of our kids had to attend an interview session for a college...they asked our kid if he/she could deal with the school's honor code. Our student's response was , "It would be nice to attend a school where the students don't cheat!"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by publish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

Our student's response was , "It would be nice to attend a school where the students don't cheat!"

For the students who work hard for their grades, and do not cheat, this is another form of grade deflation. The undercurrent that everyone may be cheating at Paly. It seems to me that some students could be getting hit both ways. By the idea that everyone cheats (therefore they do too), and by the occasional teacher who is a sloppy grader.

Cheating and grading should not even be one topic, unless there is actually a connection between student cheating and sloppy grading. The connection I see is that they are both rogue acts. They always seem to come up together, and both give the majority of students and teachers who are doing a good job an unfair light.

No harm in making sure that at least sloppy grading practices are not contributing to a culture of going rogue. It's hard enough that the college board has imposed a system of AP, and lanes which puts undue pressure on everyone. Not only do you have to get good enough grades, you have to do it with college level work.


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