DPS principal changed grades; investigation launched

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

DENVER -- The chief of Denver Public Schools, Susana Cordova, today called for an independent “review” into a growing grade-change scandal first exposed by FOX31 Denver’s investigative team.

Investigative reporter Chris Halsne has been looking into allegations that nine physics grades at the Collegiate Prep Academy were changed by “administrative process” from Fs to Ds over the Christmas holiday.

DPS is now taking his reports seriously, after initially telling FOX31 Denver “allegations that grades have been changed arbitrarily or inappropriately are false.”

The softened stance is reflected in a letter which went home with Collegiate Prep Academy students Tuesday afternoon.

In it, DPS appears to admit a new principal, Martha Gustafson, changed some failing semester grades to passing ones. The statement also indicates those changes were outside the normal methods in which students might qualify for improved scores.

It says in part, “Denver Public Schools has consulted with the Colorado Department of Education and is seeking an independent party to review the claims that have been made in this situation and to determine if any actions were improper.  Additionally, we are asking for recommendations from this independent party regarding any changes in our policies or practices that may need to be made to address similar situations in the future. This review will commence as soon as possible and its findings and recommendations will be made fully public.”

It also states: “Principal Gustafson changed the grades out of her belief that the grades given to the students by the teacher did not accurately reflect the students` proficiency in the course. These grades were not changed through CPA`s credit recovery program.”

The Colorado Department of Education defines credit recovery as “a student passing, and receiving credit for, a course that the student previously attempted but was unsuccessful in earning academic credit towards graduation. The student can then "recover" the credit by satisfying requirements for the course in which they were unsuccessful and can focus on earning credit based on competency of the content standards for that particular course.

CHRIS HALSNEFOX31 Denver could find no evidence that the failed students in question were enrolled in the credit recovery program.

Records, time-stamped December 19, 2014 show nine physics students at CPA had combined assignment, test, and final test scores below the 60 percent fail/pass threshold.

Semester totals showed scores of 13.26%, 21.46%, 32.50%, 34.03%, 35.94%, 40.41%, 44.47%, 46.43%, and 52.96%.

Former CPA physics teacher, Justin Twardowski, told FOX31 Denver he turned in the above scores, but several weeks later, he saw those same students had received D’s in their official transcripts.

FOX31 Denver asked Gustafson, during an on-camera interview last week, if she was the one who changed the grades, but she didn’t admit it.

She instead told Halsne, “We are launching several initiatives here to help kids do unit recovery, credit recovery, assignment recovery and able to realize successes on a body of evidence level with proficiency.”

Twardowski says Gustafson pressured him in early December to bump failing students to a passing mark. He shared emails with FOX31 Denver which appear to back up that claim.

He says he refused to boost the grades “on moral grounds.”

“My principal had told me that she does not want to see ... she should not see anything below a D in my grade book,” Twardowski told Halsne. “That is when I felt threatened. Because it was a serious comment. It was not joking. That is when I felt threatened enough that I needed to document my final grades.”

Records show Twardowski resigned from the district in mid-January citing a hostile work environment.