Preuss School Under Fire in Grade Change Scandal

Multiple allegations of grade irregularities at the Preuss School,
UCSD’s nationally recognized charter school for low-income students,
have spurred university officials to initiate a comprehensive audit to
examine three to four years worth of the school’s academic records.
Investigators within UCSD’s Audit and Management Advisory Services have
been analyzing claims of grading improprieties since mid-June, when
Cecil Lytle, former Thurgood Marshall College provost and current chair
of the Preuss School Board of Directors, received the first of numerous
allegations of inappropriate grade recording.
Lytle said he immediately contacted AMAS to initiate the audit, citing
a desire to preserve the school’s reputation as a groundbreaking
experiment in public education. The Preuss School is w

Cecil Lytle, Preuss School Board of Directors Chairman

ell known for achieving high test scores among mostly
underprivileged minority students, and was labeled the ninth best high
school in the nation by Newsweek magazine in May.
“I wanted the best professional review team to do this,” Lytle said.
“Because we’re a model, we need to make sure that the model is squeaky
AMAS Director Stephanie Burke said that accusations of grade tampering
are unusual, and that auditors carefully analyze all claims of
wrongdoing to determine the depth of the subsequent investigation.
“Allegations of misconduct are not common,” she said in an
e-mail. “When such allegations arise, UCSD assesses the nature of the
allegations made and performs a brief or more in-depth review as
As summer progressed, Lytle said he received even more complaints of
misconduct, some reported anonymously. In the course of their
investigation, AMAS auditors discovered other transcripts with grade
inconsistencies — numbering between 68 and 100 in total — over the last
three to four years. Some students’ course grades were reportedly
raised or lowered, and other students were given grades for classes
they had not taken, Lytle said.
The school generates approximately 13,860 course grades per year,
meaning the affected grades would amount to less than 0.5 percent of
last year’s marks. Lytle added that a “bulk” of the questionable grades
involved an online course taken over the summer, which is being closely
analyzed by the auditors.
The initial investigation led to one staff member’s termination,
according to a Sept. 12 memo that Lytle wrote to fellow board members.
He declined to elaborate on the situation, saying only that the
employee had been fired for “unprofessional conduct.”
On Sept. 12, Preuss Principal Doris Alvarez and her son-in-law, senior
counselor Phil Ensberg, were placed on paid leave pending the results
of the audit. Alvarez, an acclaimed educator, was awarded National
Principal of the Year in 1997.
Lytle emphasized that although both Alvarez and Ensberg were also
anonymously accused, the decision to place the two on leave was not an
implication of any wrongdoing.
Burke agreed that placing accused administrators on leave is common
practice to ensure that the audit is recognized as impartial.
“Investigatory leave is generally used in cases where allegations are
of a serious nature, and it is determined that the investigation should
proceed without any appearance of influence by management,” she said.
Vice Principal and Dean of Students Scott Barton is serving as interim principal until the matter is resolved.
Lytle described the anonymous nature of some of the allegations as
“suspicious,” and said that he believes the school’s reputation may
have played a role in its becoming a target for detractors.
“Had this been just another failing urban school, no one would have made these accusations,” he said.
Lytle said that one of the allegations was made by a staff member who
had been fired, but did not specify if this was the same employee
terminated after the original investigation. AMAS is also investigating
a claim that certain teachers were allegedly pressured by Preuss
administrators to alter grades.
If any of the allegations are proven, Lytle said that the school will take action as necessary.
“I’m not worried about the results of the audit,” he said. “In fact,
I’m looking forward to seeing it. Even if we find something that’s gone
wrong, we’ll fix it.”
UCSD co-charters the Preuss School with the San Diego Unified School
District, which is responsible for verifying that the school remains in
line with its objectives and mission statement. Moises Aguirre, manager
of charter schools at SDUSD’s Office of School Choice, said that his
office was not made aware of the audit until Sept. 10, though it had
received similar anonymous calls during the summer. He said the most
recent allegation was made approximately two weeks ago.
“We’re monitoring the situation right now,” Aguirre said. “At this
point, we don’t want to make any assumptions. We want to see the
results before we take any action.”
According to the district’s Web site, a school’s charter may be revoked if it fails to adhere to its operational goals.
As the investigation continues, Preuss parents, students and faculty
are anticipating the impact these allegations — and ultimately, the
findings of the audit — will have on the school’s reputation.
“I sadly believe the school’s reputation is already damaged, regardless
of the results of the investigation,” Preuss parent Maru Cham, whose
daughter graduated last spring, said in an e-mail. “People reading the
news may not remember that the audit is talking about less than 0.1
percent of the grades being altered. They may just keep in their minds
‘altered grades at Preuss’ and that is it.”
Cham, an active member of the school’s parent council for several
years, said that she trusts Alvarez, Lytle and the board of directors
to handle the situation appropriately.
“If an anomaly is proven, my reasoning tells me to keep in mind that we
are all humans, [and] susceptible to mistakes and lessons to learn,”
she said. “Mistakes do not take away a legacy of many successes and
great results.”
A.S. President Marco Murillo, a 2004 Preuss graduate, said he is
optimistic that the school’s standing in the community will remain
“I think it is too early to jump to any conclusion on the future
reputation of Preuss,” Murillo said. “In only eight years, Preuss has
become a very prestigious school, and I believe the school will
continue to carry on its mission.”
Neither Murillo nor Cham said they witnessed any grade irregularities
during their time at the school, though Cham said she did hear rumors
of possible discrepancies during spring quarter.
Burke said that the results of the audit are expected next month.