Computer issue affects school grading systems in every part of NC

Buncombe County middle school students work on a class project. A recent computer issue has affected report cards for students across North Carolina. File photo by Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press

Across the state, many school districts had to work quickly to correct errors in students’ grades for the most recent grading period.

An issue with the PowerSchool’s PowerTeacher Pro digital application, which many teachers use to input their students’ grades, caused some grades to be miscalculated.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction released a statement that more than a 100 school districts and charter schools experienced grade errors.

Drew Elliott, director of the communications and information division of NCDPI, said the error resulted from incomplete or incorrect guidance from PowerSchool on how to inform districts to change their settings and teachers to input their grades.

“There are these two settings in the system. One is called an alpha type, one is called a numeric type, but those don’t correspond to what you would think of,” Elliott told Carolina Public Press. “The guidance that we got was to switch everyone to numeric-type entry when in reality only sections that were using standards-based grading should be using numeric type, and everyone else should be using alpha-type entry.”

Standards-based grading, typically used in elementary schools, involves grading on a scale of 1-to-4 based on competency rather than a grade on a 100-point scale.

For students on a 100-point scale, the miscalculation affected final grades by anywhere from a tenth of a point to one point. About 10-20 percent of students were impacted in affected sections, according to the NCDPI statement.

NCDPI originally instructed the state’s school districts to switch to the new PowerTeacher Pro application before the start of the 2018-19 school year, however, most districts have been using PowerSchool’s grade book program for several years without a problem.

The issue was originally discovered in the Alamance-Burlington school district by a teacher who noticed a discrepancy between his calculations and the rounding done by the grade book program.

Julie Cozort, director of data integration and student information, and Revonda Johnson, chief secondary officer, worked closely on investigating the issue at a district level.

“After we investigated at the district level, we reported our findings to NCDPI and continued to be actively involved in seeking a resolution to the issue that was not specific to our schools or district,” Cozort and Johnson said.

They estimate about 8,200 grades were impacted in Alamance-Burlington district, with no distinguishable pattern to which students were affected. Report cards were only delayed for early college and charter schools in their district with no setback for schools on a traditional schedule.

Moore County schools experienced a setback in their schedule. Report cards were distributed in early February instead of at the usual January deadline to give schools more time to correct the error, according to Catherine Murphy, director of communications for the Moore County school district.

“The district is currently working to assess the scope of the impact to student grades,” Murphy said in an email. “The calculation error does not impact every student. Those students who are impacted by the calculation error will receive the higher grade calculation.”

Students in Guilford County schools were among those affected by the grade miscalculation, but according to Howard Stimpson, principal of Penn-Griffin School for the Arts in High Point, the error was not a major problem, and report cards went out without delay.

NCDPI recommended that all affected districts revert to the previous grade-entry system.

“Principals informed teachers of recalculation errors, shared grade book instructions to follow as well as expectations of completing the task,” said Cozart and Johnson in a joint message about Alamance-Burlington.

“The needed grade book steps were applied to all classes at once and took less than five minutes for each teacher to complete. Finally, data managers compared original grades with corrected grades to determine changes needed.”

Additionally, PowerSchool developed a plug-in that allowed districts to zero in on affected sections, shortening the amount of time needed to solve the issue.

Going forward with the school year, teachers will continue to use the alpha system they used before the Pro tool was introduced, and there should be no more issues or changes in the way report cards are entered and calculated, according to NCDPI.

“This was more of a computing issue with PowerSchool than a procedural administrative report card issue that would need a change in policy,” Stimpson said. “And these things are difficult to predict when they’re going to happen, so it’s a matter of communicating and working quickly.”

Both Alamance-Burlington schools and Guilford schools reported being proactive in their communication with teachers, parents and students about the grade miscalculations, resulting in few questions from the school community.

Affected districts and charter schools in North Carolina

  • Alamance-Burlington
  • Alexander County
  • Alleghany County
  • Anson County
  • Asheville City Schools
  • Avery County Schools
  • Beaufort County
  • Bertie County
  • Brevard Academy
  • Brunswick County
  • Buncombe County
  • Burke County
  • Cabarrus County
  • Caldwell County
  • Camden County
  • Carteret County
  • Caswell County
  • Catawba County
  • Chapel-Hill Carrboro City Schools
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
  • Chatham County
  • Cherokee County
  • Clay County
  • Cleveland County
  • Clinton City Schools
  • Craven County
  • Cumberland County
  • Currituck County
  • Dare County
  • Davidson County
  • Davie County
  • Duplin County
  • Durham Public Schools
  • Edenton-Chowan
  • Edgecombe County
  • Elizabeth City-Pasquotank
  • Elkin City Schools
  • Franklin County
  • Gaston County
  • Gates County
  • Granville County
  • Greene County
  • Guilford County
  • Harnett County
  • Haywood County
  • Henderson County
  • Herford County
  • Hickory City Schools
  • Hoke County
  • Hyde County
  • Iredell-Statesville Schools
  • Jackson County
  • Jones County
  • Kannapolis City Schools
  • Lee County
  • Lenoir County
  • Lexington City Schools
  • Lincoln County
  • Longleaf School of the Arts
  • Macon County
  • Madison County
  • Martin County
  • McDowell County
  • Mitchell County
  • Montgomery County
  • Moore County Schools
  • Mount Airy City Schools
  • Nash-Rocky Mount
  • New Hanover County
  • Newton Conover City Schools
  • Northampton County
  • Onslow County
  • Orange County
  • Pamlico County
  • Perquimans County
  • Person County
  • Polk County
  • Randolph County
  • Richmond County
  • Robeson County
  • Rockingham County
  • Rowan-Salisbury
  • Rutherford County
  • Sampson County
  • Scotland County
  • Stanley County
  • Stokes County
  • Swain County
  • Thomasville City Schools
  • Transylvania County
  • Tyrrell County
  • Union County
  • Vance County
  • Warren County
  • Watauga County
  • Wayne County
  • Whiteville City Schools
  • Wilkes County
  • Wilson County
  • Winston Salem/Forsyth County
  • Yancey County