(TNS) — Some seniors at Atlanta's Crim High School Googled their way to diplomas this spring, looking up the answers to test questions on the Internet while enrolled in a flawed online education pilot program, teachers told the Atlanta school board.
Students in the pilot took classes in school computer labs supervised by teachers. The teachers were also available to help them with lessons, district accountability chief Bill Caritj said. Some of the seniors were catching up before graduation; others were taking courses for the first time, he said.
But some teachers and parents said students cheated their way through the coursework in order to earn credit.
Atlanta is one of many districts nationwide turning to more online classes both as part of regular instruction and to help students who failed classes. The software used at Crim is in use at about a third of Georgia districts, according to the company, Edgenuity.
Proponents of the trend of combining online and in-person teaching say it works for students who don't learn by sitting through classroom lectures and lets them learn at their own pace.
At a school like Crim, which serves students who haven't succeeded elsewhere, the model could be a good fit, district officials say.
Some teachers disagree.
"We have conferred the degrees of students who probably have a hard time reading what the degrees actually say," Crim Teacher of the Year Velma Thompson told the school board Monday. Thompson was one of several teachers, some of whom lost their jobs in recent APS layoffs, who voiced concerns to the board about the program. Their criticisms come at a time when the district is still coping with the aftermath of a cheating scandal that brought national notoriety.
Thompson said many recent Crim graduates read at a fifth grade level or below.
However, state test results show that nearly all of graduates for whom data is available passed state writing tests and were at or near grade level on reading tests, Caritj said.
The program used at Crim replaced another online learning platform and was in place in all Atlanta high schools and some middle schools this school year, Caritj said. APS will pay $204,000 to use the program next year too.
Teacher Phyllis Gray-Butts resigned from Crim when her position was abolished this spring. She said students quickly learned to pass their courses by copying and pasting test questions into search engines.
"You had kids who graduated — and I put that in quotation marks — and they cheated," she said. "They learned how to cheat the new online program."
However, several teachers were stationed in each computer lab, Caritj said.
"That kind of thing is not supposed to happen because the teacher is supposed to be there helping the students and monitoring their work," he said.
Lynette Owens' daughter attended Crim. Owens said her daughter's progress stalled when the online instruction began.
"I think it was more confusing to the kids then anything. It taught them how to cheat," she said.
Her daughter passed — and proudly marched across the stage at graduation — even though she reads at an elementary school level, Owens said.
"It's not fair for her," Owens said. "If they're telling you that this is what you have to do to reach your goals, who's not going to follow that?"
©2015 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.