« Schools Shouldn't Trust Google Search Because It Reinforces Racism, Researcher Argues | Main | Cyber Charters in at Least 5 States Face Closure. What's Going On? »

Dozens of New Mexico Students Changed Their Grades Using a Teacher's Account

Report-Card-Grades_Blog-560x292_Getty.jpgMore than 50 students at a New Mexico high school are facing disciplinary action after they used a teacher log-in to change their own grades on the school's online course platform.  

The Gadsden High School students logged into a teacher account on Edgenuity, an online course provider and grading platform, and changed a total of 456 grades, according to a statement from the Gadsden Independent School District. Five of the 55 students implicated have been suspended.  

The students who altered their grades won't receive credit for those courses, and the 29 seniors involved will not be eligible to graduate in the spring. All students will have the opportunity to make up work, including seniors, who will be able to qualify for diplomas in the summer.

Students used a teacher access code, similar to a password, to log in to the restricted Edgenuity account. All students who changed grades used the same code, according to the district's statement.

"We regularly work with schools on how best to set permissions and organize administrator rights to ensure there are appropriate access limits to student grades," a spokesperson for Edgenuity said in a statement. The company also recommends that schools clearly spell out the consequences for cheating and other academic dishonesty.

But password security—the issue at hand at Gadsden—ultimately "comes down to the individual entrusted with the password," the Edgenuity spokesperson said.

How can teachers and other school staff ensure that their passwords stay private?

Some of the most effective safeguards are the most low-tech. Teachers should avoid keeping their passwords in a prominent place—like a sticky note near the computer—even though it may be convenient, said Marie Bjerede, the principal of leadership initiatives for the Consortium for School Networking. (The district didn't provide details about how students obtained the teacher password at Gadsden.)

Small fixes like this can avoid bigger problems down the road. "Cybersecurity is everybody's job," said Bjerede, "It doesn't just belong to IT."

Sign up to get Education Week's latest ed-tech news in your inbox.

Students plotting interference in online gradebooks isn't a new phenomenon.

Last year, a sophomore in Chicago accessed his high school's PowerSchool grading system by sending phishing emails to his teachers, who then provided their usernames and passwords. In 2015, a high school senior in Long Island placed a keyloggera program that records all keystrokes entered on a device—on a computer in the building. He used the captured log-ins to change his grades and rearrange the schedules of other students.  

Despite these high-profile cases, it's likely harder for most students to get unauthorized access to their grades in an online system than it would be if their teachers were using pen-and-paper gradebooks, said Bjerede, due to the security measures that these platforms put in place.

It also may be easier for educators to identify the students responsible. Edgenuity, for example, can provide school administrators with activity logs with every session on the platform, as well as the corresponding IP address for that session.

The best defense against against student hackers is the same one districts deploy against external threats, said Bjerede: a strong cybersecurity plan and regular trainings for teachers and staff.  

CoSN's cybersecurity planning and evaluation resources recommend that districts have clear procedures for how to report and document security issues and a response plan in place for cyber attacks.

Image: Getty

See more:

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments