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More McKinley teachers come forward about pressure to boost students' grades

Posted at 6:15 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 12:52:18-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Three former McKinley High School teachers are speaking publicly about the pressure they felt to change students' grades under the leadership of former acting principal Marck Abraham, who was handpicked and repeatedly defended by Superintendent Kriner Cash throughout his tenure.

One of those teachers, Eric Crittenden, who taught music at McKinley in 2016 and 2017, says he was asked to change the grades of about four or five students.

"I got a phone call at the end of the year, 'hey you gave so-and-so this grade, can you bump it up?'," Crittenden recalls being asked.

Because he was a new teacher at the time, Crittenden says he thought it was standard practice. He acquiesced and improved the student's grade.

"Whether or not [the student] knows the C Major scale is not paramount to this person's life, you know? So I was like, yeah, ok, I didn't think anything of it," said Crittenden, who now teaches at International Preparatory School within the Buffalo Public School District.

Two other teachers, who are now both retired, allege their grades were outright altered without them knowing about it.

Don Geil, who was a carpentry teacher and taught at McKinley for 19 years, says he once had a student whose grade was arbitrarily switched to a 95 in the third marking period while he was out on leave.

"She hardly turned in any work, was never [in class]," said Geil.

Geil says a guidance councilor, who oversees transcripts, told him that Abraham was responsible for that grade change.

When Geil confronted Abraham about it, he says Abraham did not deny it.

"He said well I have principal's privilege, and I can go in and change the grades if I feel it's warranted," said Geil.

Similarly, now-retired teacher Kathryn Frank, who had been teaching French and Spanish in Buffalo for 25 years, said she too noticed grades of several students were arbitrarily changed in the second marking period of 2019. The grades were changed from a 50 to a 65.

Frank says she also took her concerns to a guidance councilor.

"I was told that they were told that certain students, especially any seniors, if they had received 50s, to up them to a 65 to give them a better chance of passing at the end [of the school year]," said Frank.

Frank says she returned those grades back down to a 50 and warned the guidance councilor "don't do that again."

When 7 News reached Abraham for comment, he declined the opportunity to respond to these allegations, instead only addressing the teen who was shot in the McKinley High School parking lot on February 9th.

"My prayer is for the families of the children who are suffering right now, the young person that is fighting for their life, I pray for McKinley High School," said Abraham.

These new allegations come after 7 News first reported the Buffalo Teachers Federation sent the district a letter in 2020 on behalf of a teacher who detailed "grade fraud." The teacher says one of his students was enrolled in two Physical Education classes at the exact same time. The teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, believes Abraham's administration enrolled the student in two PE classes so that the higher grade would be applied, the lower grade thrown out, giving the student a greater chance of graduating.

7 News obtained correspondence between the teacher and the New York State Education Department's Office of School Personnel Review and Accountability, in which OSPRA acknowledges receipt of the teacher's concerns. A spokesperson for the Education Department would not confirm to 7 News whether an investigation has proceeded, or whether an investigation even exists.

With a growing number of teachers sharing their experiences of alleged grade manipulation, Crittenden says the situation was a lot more serious than he first assumed.

"It didn't seem that heavy at the time, and now, when you hear these other stories from my colleagues, some of them have retired since, it seems like it was much more egregious and much more intimidating for them," said Crittenden.

7 News has repeatedly asked the Buffalo Public School District what it did with the information it received about grade manipulation. A spokesperson for Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash would not answer those questions, instead calling the allegations a "personnel matter" and saying they don't have a comment on personnel matters with a former employee.

March 1st update: On March 1st, a day after this story was published, a spokesperson for the Buffalo Public School District sent a second statement, saying "The District takes allegations of testing and grading impropriety extremely seriously. While the District cannot comment on the details of any investigation, it will ensure it works with its partners at the State Education Department to ensure these allegations are fully and completely investigated."