04 March 2010


Washington Post | Michael Birnbaum, Dan Morse & Jenna Johnson | Criminal investigation opened in grade-changing scandal at Churchill High

The Montgomery County state's attorney has opened a criminal investigation into a grade-changing scheme at Winston Churchill High School, officials said Wednesday, elevating the digital subterfuge into a major scandal at one of the region's most prestigious public schools.

Police, prosecutors and school officials are examining the actions of at least eight students who allegedly used a USB device to steal teachers' passwords and change the grades of 54 students. Nearly 700 student records have been subpoenaed, and three of the eight students identified as ringleaders have left the school.

"We don't know the scope," said Capt. Paul Starks, a Montgomery County police spokesman. "We're just beginning the investigation." He said detectives are particularly interested in unauthorized use of computers, which can be a crime in Maryland.
(1) Criminal investigation? Really? Huh.

(2) Conspiracies of large numbers of people rarely work, those between large numbers of high school students NEVER work.

(3) The angle I'm not seeing reported anywhere: Teachers and sysadmins for a school system with a $2.3 billion budget were outsmarted by teenagers.

(4) Churchill is the next school over from my high school alma mater. I remember several students either changing their grades digitally or conspiring to do the same back in my day. Of course, no one needed fancypants USB key loggers because teachers had a habit of leaving their computers logged in, or writing the passwords down and keeping them taped to the monitor, or if they were really clever, putting them on post-it notes on the underside of their desks. I can't think of a single organizaed effort like this, but I think it's a safe bet that well more than 54 of my classmates got their grades changed.

(5) The big, news-making cheating scandal when I was in school was of a decidedly low-tech variety.  (The old hide-the-paper-in-your-hat trick, which is just shamefully brutish.  No elan at all.)  Here's an article from a nearby school's newspaper describing the aftermath.  The Student Press Law Center got involved with the censorship angle.  The resulting imbroglio between the Washington Post and NY Times was a real hoot to watch.  It's not everyday the results of a world history exam cause ink to be spilled in international papers.

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