CA: Dixon High School student arrested in electronic grade-changing scandal

Richard Bammer reports:

An 18-year-old Dixon High School student was arrested Thursday on suspicion of altering a computer data system, a felony, in connection with more than 200 grade changes for more than 30 students at the school.

Senior Juan Ambriz was taken into custody at the 555 College Way campus by Dixon police after Dixon Unified School District officials uncovered the scandal and said they gathered enough information to conclude he had breached the electronic gradebook system and made the changes.

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The district issued the following press release:

On Tuesday, May 13 the administration staff at Dixon High School became aware that unauthorized changes were made to the grades of a student through the electronic gradebook system. A teacher on campus noticed the changes and reported them as the difference was significant.

Upon questioning, the student explained how the grades had come to be changed. A second student was interviewed and confirmed the same information. Both students described how another student had gained access to teachers’ online electronic gradebooks and had the capability to change the grades on any assignment in them.

District technology staff members were able to generate reports from the student information system documenting the number of grade changes made, the specific changes made by student and assignment, as well the details of date and time. They were also able to obtain the IP address of the computer utilized to make the grade changes and verify that it was not a district computer.

Administration staff questioned the student suspected of being responsible for the grade changes and presented the documentation generated by the technology staff. The student was cooperative with staff under questioning and made a full and detailed admission of how he accessed the electronic gradebooks.

The investigation by administration staff is on-going and will take an extended period of time to complete. At this time more than 200 separate grade changes for over 30 students have been identified. Consequences for students shall not be determined until the conclusion of the investigation.

District staff contacted the Dixon Police Department and it is conducting its own investigation into the situation. The computer used by the student was obtained by district staff and is in the possession of the investigative staff at the Police Department. The student was taken into custody by Dixon Police for additional questioning on Wednesday afternoon.

Superintendent Brian Dolan has made this statement regarding this situation:
“I am joined by the staff at Dixon High in expressing my profound disappointment with regard to this situation. The fact that one student was both able to and did change grades is distressing. The additional fact that more than 30 other students appear to have enlisted his assistance in these dishonest and unethical acts is of grave concern to all of us.”

So does it concern anyone else that had a teacher not noticed a change, the district’s system didn’t detect any unusual or questionable activity – given that the changes were being made from an IP outside of the district? Yes, teachers can work from home, but what controls did this district have in place? And if the student could access the electronic gradebook, what else could potentially be accessed of a sensitive nature?

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