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2 Investigators: High School Allegedly Used Grade-Cheating To Pass Students

(CBS) -- A Chicago public high school is under investigation because of allegations that students are being passed even though they have failing grades.

CBS 2's Dave Savini reports.

Sources say the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Inspector General is looking into how Benito Juarez Community Academy High School uses "benchmark recovery" -- a grading system that is supposed to help failing students meet standards. At Juarez, the allegation is that benchmarking is being used instead to simply pass kids along.

Manny Bermudez, former Juarez teacher, says grades are being changed to make the passing rate look better.

"They deserve a better education," Bermudez says. "They deserve to be taught the right way."

Bermudez says he blew the whistle on what he thinks is a cheating scandal, yet little has been done.

CBS 2 obtained Juarez grade-changing documents from last year that show "red" grades turning into passing grades. Also, an e-mail from 2013 says 130 failing grades were changed to passing within a two-week period.

"They didn't deserve these grades," Bermudez says.

Grades are changed through what is called benchmark recovery -- extra assignments or testing to prove a student knows the material and meets standards. Bermudez says the problem at Juarez is students are given minimal assignments and they really do not meet standards but are passed, anyway.

CBS 2 found students with 15 percent, 19 percent and similar grades, on a scale of 100 percent, having their grades turned into passing.

"For a student to make up from a 15 percent, or a 10 percent, to 70 percent in two days or two weeks, it's almost impossible," Bermudez says. "It's ridiculous."

CBS 2 contacted Camille Farrington, a senior researcher at the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, about benchmarking. She says benchmarking, done correctly, gives students every opportunity to truly learn and succeed.

"Keeping kids from failing, I think, is critically important," Farrington says.

Failing grades have been a problem at Juarez. According to a 2013 e-mail, 730 students, nearly half the school, needed to be benchmarked in order to pass.

"It says we have far too high failure rates in Chicago Public Schools and in most urban schools," Farrington says.

But like any grading system, Farrington says benchmarking can be abused.

Bermudez, along with other teachers CBS 2 spoke with, say instructors were pressured to give easy benchmarks and pass failing students.

"I've even had some students tell me that they're not going to do nothing because they can pass it at the end of the year," Bermudez says. "These students deserve a better education."

More Juarez students may be getting passing grades, but state records show last year only 14 percent were ready for college.

Sources say Juarez also is still being investigated for attendance cheating.

Manny Bermudez says he became a whistleblower and then was let go.

As far as benchmarking, Farrington says there is a national trend to this grading system.

A spokesperson for CPS declined comment, citing the inspector general's investigation.

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