Is Houston Independent School District letting students cheat so they can graduate?

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KHOU: Instead of learning and earning their diplomas, some Houston high school students say the district got them to their cap and gown, through a program that’s easy to pass, and easy to cheat.

“You don’t have to do the work, you can put it on another student, you can pay another student to finish the work, and the teacher will never know,” said a recent graduate from Booker T. Washington High School who asked not to be identified.

Why won’t teachers know? Because the Houston Independent School District (HISD) allows students to take quizzes, and even some tests, on their own—online—just a finger click away from an internet full of answers.

“You’re not learning anything except how to Google stuff online,” said another Washington High School graduate.

The program is called Grab Lab and it lets students retake courses they’ve previously failed. HISD Superintendent Terry Grier launched it to rescue kids from dropping out.

But critics say there may be another reason for the program’s existence. “In reality, it’s just a way of getting those stats higher, the percentage of kids graduating higher,” said Dr. Bob Sanborn.

Sanborn is an education watchdog who runs the research and advocacy non-profit “Children at Risk”. His fear is that HISD is speeding kids through coursework to artificially boost its graduation rate — a vital factor in how the State of Texas rates school districts each year. “There’s a lot of pressure on our school districts to say ‘how do we get those numbers up,’” Sanborn said.

That numbers game, Sanborn said, comes with a cost. “We have a student who maybe really hasn’t learned, they’ve just sort of abused the situation,” Sanborn said.

For instance, those take-home quizzes and tests sometimes count for more than half of a student’s grade. What’s more students get not one, not two, but three chances to pass them. It’s no wonder many students say Grad Lab is a breeze.

“It’s easier I would say,” said Louis Martinez, a Reagan High School student. “It makes you feel good because you finish something in a shorter time than you would have taking an actual class,” added student Jasmine Cortes.

And in some cases HISD allows seniors to finish in record time. How? By taking only one section of a course online then skipping the rest, and whizzing straight on to the final exam and diploma.

And that’s something that other major school districts just don’t do–not in Los Angeles or Boston, which both use the same online curriculum.

“Every student is enrolled in the full course and there is no testing out,” Boston Public Schools Spokesperson Lee McGuire. “The guidelines developed under Credit Recovery require students to take all course lessons and units,” McGuire said.

“I think the grad lab was kind of a cheap way to graduate high school,” said the Washington High School graduate.

But while some students call it cheap and easy, HISD sees it differently. “I’ve stood there on graduation day with kids with tears in their eyes saying  ‘If it had not been for this program, I wouldn’t be standing here,’” said Regina Johnson. Regina Johnson is a Grad Lab “coach” at HISD’s Reagan High School and a true believer in the program.

So we asked –

I-Team: “You don’t really know if they’re doing the work or not.”

Johnson: “Yes, because I’m checking here to make sure they’re doing it because I’m constantly monitoring.”

I-Team: “You just said they can do this stuff at home.”

Johnson: “They can do some of this at home but I’m looking over their shoulder to make sure…”

I-Team:  “You’re not looking over their shoulders at home. Does this system lend itself to gaming the system, to cheating the system?”

Johnson: “Just like any other system.”

Meanwhile, HISD Spokesperson Jason Spencer pointed out that all Grad Lab final exams must be taken live at school, with a proctor present and no access to the Internet. But the I-Team confirmed in some courses, the final test counts for as little as 10% of the total grade. The result is a student can flunk the final, but still pass the course with good scores on the other take-home quizzes and tests.

I never had a take-home quiz or test while I was in high school. That’s an automatic “A” for anyone! And an automatic way to dumb down our students.



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0 responses to “Is Houston Independent School District letting students cheat so they can graduate?

  1. We need to be making it harder to graduate so that we can get our youth back on tract with their education!

    • I don’t know..I, honestly, do not know. There “seems” to be something basic about integrity, ethics, etc. NOT being taught within the home.
      I am not even sure when this seeming trend began….but there seems to be an entire belief system that students feel “entitled” to pass without putting forth the effort to EARN their grades.
      What happened in our society? When did it begin?

      You may not be able to answer either of my questions; but I have been asking for years.

      • It’s a serious problem with even harder answers. We can’t keep lowering our passing standards and college entrance standards to comply with an under-educated youth. That being said, education does begin in the home, the core values of hard work, making your own way and being prepared to put in a lot of effort to achieve your goals are not being taught. General society at least the current generation has a serious problem of “entitlement”, as you said, without putting forth the effort.

        Now when I went to school if I got bad grades or did poorly there were consequences at home, and my parents didn’t run to the school and blame the teachers for my poor work. I was held responsible, not the school. Too many parents are putting in less time raising their children, letting society do it for them, then blaming everyone but their child and themselves when their children do not perform up to par.

        People have to start holding their children responsible again as well as themselves. We have to raise our youth to work hard and expect to be held up to standards because if we continue just allowing them to take easy street well then we will have a generation that will not achieve much except for passing the next level of Call of Duty.

        There is no clear answer to any of this, it’s sad and frustrating. In my school we got spanked for cheating and we had to have a 80% or above to pass. There is going to be a lot of problems in this society because children are being raised with a sense of entitlement.

  2. I was 54 yrs old at the time…during graduate School at Texas A&M. M.S. in Counseling: School teachers were in the same classes to get their Masters to be School Counselors. During the very first test during the very first Semester, I noticed that all of the teachers were sitting at the back of the room with their books open during a test asking each other “what page was that answer on?” They didn’t care we could hear them. They “were allowed to openly cheat”.

    Then, of course, there was Advanced Psychology. AGAIN, they had their books out in plain sight; and no one said a word.
    The ONLY people who weren’t allowed to cheat were White and getting a M.S. in either Psychology or Counseling.

    • I used to teach at the university level. Special interest members would openly cheat and stare back at me when I caught them. When I would pursue charging the students, both the department head and dean “counseled” me about picking my battles. I never saw a non-special interest member cheat and wondered if I would be counseled about picking my battles on such a case. I quit teaching for a number of reasons, and this was a big one.

  3. upaces88 – I find that so disturbing… I sat in the front of the class so do not know if anyone cheated… There were quite a few of the younger kids that wanted to purchase my notes… I suppose they never learned how to take notes. I am not sure my well organized noted helped them as they did not do the actual work. I am sure these cheating students would feel that it just wasn’t fair for them to be held back, if they did not pass this program..

    • You would have known if they were openly cheating.
      What bothered me the most about it…they were “TEACHERS” in the same class to get their Masters in School Counseling.
      It REALLY SEEMED LIKE they were either given prior permission OR, the professors were instructed to ALLOW them to cheat.

      I always took notes too. It seems they think they are “entitled” because???

  4. Have you ever noticed when at the store, any store, many of the clerks seem rather dumb? I guess letting students cheat in order to graduate must account for having so many dummies out in the public. This does not work to their good–when they finally get out in the real world, they will have to compete with other people. Unfortunately, the winners will be those who really are smart and rally have been educated.

  5. Ditto Auntie Lulu. More less even carry on a conversation! It would seem that is very few and far in between! Even when my oldest home schooler was a cashier she would try and have an conversations with young people. Sadly she met with either blank stares or she could tell they were lying. She said the young people rarely looked her in the eye.

    Sad… sad indeed for the future generation.

    • That is why I just adore older people. They are so furiously funny and know when crap IS crap!! :o)
      I like to smile at them when I grocery shop. No one else seems to notice them. :o(

  6. “…artificially boost its graduation rate — a vital factor in how the State of Texas rates school districts each year.”

    And more importantly, how they secure those federal education dollars – or not. See No Child Left Behind, or Common Core “state” Standards.

    With Common Core “state” Standards, much of the testing will be online in the name of measurement. Math and English Language…..for now.


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