Is ‘Paying for Grades’ the Norm?

payingforgrades49910573Dear ISR, I have a troubling question that has been eating at me. I wonder if you could solicit your readers for their opinion and experience in regards to this topic?

I am American and my husband is not. This year we moved to his home country and have two high school aged sons. We’ve enrolled them in a rather expensive international school here and our boys just received their first-quarter reports. Their grades are good, not great, but definitely above average.

I was on the campus yesterday and ran into the mother of one of my son’s classmates. In a braggart sort of way, this woman brought up the topic of grades and gloatingly told me her son got all “As”. My sons have told me her son is a class trouble maker and I’ve heard about some of his unpleasant antics. They also tell me he never does a lick of work and basically just hangs out and gives the teacher a bad time. I have to admit I was confused.

After my boys gave their report cards to their dad, I told him I learned that their classmate with a reputation for doing nothing in class had received all “As”. Our boys, who I know work hard, got mostly “B” grades. This is when I learned grades can be purchased.

My husband tells me the ultra rich here have the power to use their money to purchase favors, from law authorities on down to superior grades for their children. I suppose I shouldn’t be so naïve, but what about this boy? I really feel for this kid. It seems to me he is being set up to fail for the rest of his life just so his mother can boast the kid is an “A” student and look good to her friends and the community.

How common is this practice and can a school truthfully call itself an international school when it’s really just a supermarket for grades?

Please Scroll Down to Comment

Also see the American Experience – International Backdrop blog in which
a school owner writes in regards to teachers comments found in this blog.

58 Responses to Is ‘Paying for Grades’ the Norm?

  1. Barbara says:

    Hey… I was in a public school in the UAE full of Emerati HS girls. we gave them A’s and they ran around the building like lunatics and did absolutely whatever they pleased. And yes, when I first got there, I was still in my western noble frame of mind, put my nose up and said “no way am I buying into the craziness”, but after you are beat up enough and know you will be homeless and jobless- You do what you are paid to do. Give them all A’s,

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  2. Richard says:

    I find many of the comments here brain-numbing: No, they do not want “Western teachers” or “Western education.” They want Western recognition of the degrees of their students. Not the same thing. They are just buying what the Brits have been selling forever and for which the Americans have just gotten into the game. They just want accreditation. Geez! Where have you people been?!

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    • Mike Ebertz says:

      Richard, you are wrong. They want western teachers to sell the idea that this education will be different, better. The more western-educated teachers in the school, the more the idea is believed. Do the schools really want western teachers, no, not for our abilties or lack of, they want our images to sell their product. We are whores. But not me any longer.

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  3. Hans says:

    I think it depends on the teachers itselves, because in all professions those cases can be happened.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    At my current school (in Malaysia), they simply don’t allow students who are going to fail A or O-levels (based on trial exam results) to sit for the exams, just so the school can say it has a “100% pass rate” – great way to promote the school ay!!!
    As we don’t actually have a ‘curriculum’ as such, it is really easy to give whatever grades you want!
    If a student achieves what I have taught and does well in the exam, then they get a good grade (and therefore, the parents are happy)!
    Unfortunately, if the teacher the following year sets much harder exams, then it’s likely they’ll fail – therefore UNhappy parents!!!
    Either way, if a school which is not really based on any curriculum as such (just said to be ‘British Curriculum”), and the students go along happily getting good grades, its really sad to see them when they have to sit external exams (A and O-levels) and they fail miserably- or indeed aren’t even allowed to sit the exams.
    Oh, but hey, if daddy is loaded, they can just go and work for his company!

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    • Mike Ebertz says:

      Let’s face it. All these private schools in Asia are in it for the money. Education is secondary. I don’t know how anyone could work for these places after being in one international school. Perhaps two, because I could see thinking that one was a mistake and trying another. If it isn’t a public school, I wouldn’t work there.

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  5. China Teacher says:

    Corruption occurs in all of life’s venues and this is just the education version of it. As is true of all the complaints and horror stories we see on ISR, there is an upper tier of schools that have the professionalism and resources etc. required to keep this from happening. These schools can be identified with some research at ISR and elsewhere.

    The answer is to do what you have to professionally to be employable at the best schools. Or not. Then you won’t have to worry about this stuff. Your choice.

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  6. Gillian says:

    It does happen, not just in Gulf countries but in the end, it doesn’t matter because when they sit external exams they will be exposed,. just concentrate on your own children. she might even be lying. I feel sympathy though for those teachers forced, not paid, to give lazy children As. In the end, you need to post on here, do your 2 years, and leave.

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  7. patrickmurtha says:

    Common in Korea, but it happens everywhere, although of course there are plenty of reputable schools that are vigilant against it. I agree with the poster who wrote that if there is some upward adjustment going on with the grades that you give, it is best not to fight it too hard – your job could be at stake.

    There are very interesting scenes involving a Korean exchange student trying to buy a grade in the Coen Brothers’ movie “A Serious Man.”

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  8. Anonymous says:

    I would say that one mother lying to another about her son’s grades is a much more common practice in international schools.

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  9. greeneyes says:

    I recently cautioned staff at our school about this. I wish to say this is a myth but we are ready to fire any teacher who are involved in this malpractice. It cost one rotten apple on a staff to influence other teachers to accept this practice. Teachers have to provide evidence on how they grade the students. As an administrator at a school in the Middle East, this will not happen on my watch.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    It is the norm in the Middle East!

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    • Anonymous says:

      If any student got less than 85% in the American Diploma in a Saudi school the teacher was taken to task so you end up playing the game. Morally wrong but the parents are so rich their offspring will never have to work anyway. I cannot wait until the oil runs out in forty years time.

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  11. Frank Rivera says:

    NATURE OF THE BEAST!!
    All above “replies” address the endemic problem in most countries. Thus part parcel of your decision to “teach overseas.” Do a bit of “soul searching” and ask yourself “why did I choose to teach overseas?” Don Quixote you are not, thus either accept the “unwritten” rules, or come back home!!
    Frank T Rivera
    COL US Army, Ret.

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  12. CheriZ says:

    When I taught in UAE- They seperate the “foreign Arab girls” from the Native girls- and as well the foreign girls were exceptionally dedicated to their works, and very smart- but
    they did a lot of copy paste and wiki crap instead of real research and writing in their own words. I have to say the native girls listened to me. I told them just try and let me see how well you do on your own…At the end of the day most of the natives got better grades than the science group of girls…I refused to change their grades- kept copies of everything and I won that battle. Pays to listen to the instructions instead of trying to show me how well you can copy and paste. Even a 3rd grader could of done that…

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    • I copied and pasted this, “At the end of the day most of the natives got better grades than the science group of girls” from your post above and submitted it to Google Search. Voila, up pops the above article and your post. My thinking is that if there are five words in sequence, separated by fewer than twenty original words, then I strike the whole paragraph and reduce reduce the points according to how the remainder of the paper reads. Redactions have direct costs. … This is the first time I have even imagined dealing with something like this. What do you think of that strategy? My horror stories are in math and Administrators.

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  13. Direct tiered grade payment is rare these days in decent schools, but grade changing or the ‘sudden’ passing of a hopeless student is extremely common. Advice: Don’t fight this out with admin or you’ll be canned. Instead, apply your own standards and just sigh if ‘someone’ above does not honour them. You did your best.

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  14. Barbara says:

    The school I worked in in the Middle East… We just made the grades up. It was stated quite plainly to me by the other western teachers that EVERY STUDENT would get 95 and above. Even the ones who did absolutely NO WORK. It was quite different when I was teaching in NY late 90s, early 2000s, where if your students got good grades and then bombed the end of year state tests you were more than asked why… And you better have tenure… AND you would be watched more closely next year.

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  15. Seven says:

    After 10 years on the circuit, I have never taught in school where this happened. As an administrator I have had to be particularly vigilant to make sure it never gets traction in a school. All schools I have been in have had either IBO authorisation or CIS accreditation or both. Tutoring by teachers and receiving gifts from parents also need careful attention. It does not have to be just part of the landscape. Sadly however one teacher by themselves without administrative support probably just needs to go with the flow or get out.

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  16. Chris says:

    This practice is very common in GCC countries, basically they want to glory with out the hard work. has to effect the credibility of international school hearing this.

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  17. ST says:

    I taught at a “local” school that catered to the rich locals in East Africa and purchasing grades was common practice. I was once offered a lot of money to look the other way while a student cheated in an exam. Local colleagues would either tell students to pay up to be allowed to cheat on exams or would ask students to attach blank pages to their answer scripts they turned in after an exam. These students would then visit the teacher who would give them the marking key and have them change their answers. I even know of students who slept with teachers and officers of the national Examination Council of the country to have their O Level or A Level grades changed. And like someone else noted, this is something even western teachers resort to.

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  18. John Vagabond says:

    In agreement with almost all of the remarks here. Teaching in the ME it’s especially prevalent. The rubber hits the road during public exams, however, unless the paper has been compromised, which has happened. Many of the students’ grandparents, regardless of wealth were illiterate and for them, education, or rather, grade inflation, is a commodity that can be bought, just like any other. It’s prevalent also in Egypt, where advanced degrees are for sale.

    Like

  19. Maimuna says:

    Yes sadly it’s true. It’s rife in the middles east that the parents can manipulate grades and even western teachers have to comply or lose their jobs.

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  20. Angharad says:

    Typical American response! I’ve been teaching abroad for 25 years and buying grades is the norm. I don’t like it and I don’t condone it. However, there’s one good outcome here. As Americans we can rest assured we will remain superior to most countries in science, medicine, technology and engineering because we don’t sell grades! And as for the boy, he’ll get a nothing job with his dad’s company. Just what he deserves.

    Like

  21. Anonymous says:

    After only two weeks working in Turkey, the administration changed the grades of at least 6 students who failed an exemption exam which allowed them to pass on to high school. I am not sure if this was to keep numbers for the school’s reputation, or whether these were “bought” by parents. Either way, not only does it feel extremely unethical, but I am saddened for those students who were kept behind with even better grades than those students who were passed up without putting in the work.

    Like

  22. Rickster says:

    I have worked in West and North Africa. “Buying” grades would not be acceptable in the schools where I worked.
    Depends on country and school. But certainly not normal practic where I have been.

    Like

  23. Evans says:

    Obviously the universities are also part of the problem. The Universities are buying students with deep pockets and refusing entry to students with less money. Most students from the Middle East do not meet the standards needed for university entry, yet all students from the Middle East gets entry in any university they want because the universities know that students coming from those countries pay well. Even Professors from western universities are being paid to “up” the students grades that they do not deserve or are actually doing the work for the students so that they pass. I am teaching in the Middle East and students themselves let me in on the secrets. Students in the Middle East for example sit mainly Edexcel courses, However, students in Europe and America cannot get entry to good universities with Edexcel qualifications whereas Middle Eastern students do. The whole system stinks. The whole thing is a big wheel of fortune game. Its business as usual.
    It is “democrazy” at its best.

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  24. Anonymous says:

    I taught at a small, caribbean school and grades were inflated regularly. No one ever talked about it for fear of getting fired. Rigorous teachers who were not willing to compromise their integrity did not have
    their contracts renewed.

    Like

  25. Anonymous says:

    Very common in the Middle East. My Principal was visiting our sister school there and as she walked in she noticed an Arabic woman yelling and screaming at the school secretary. My Principal asked the Principal of that school what all the fuss was about and she said the woman was complaining because her daughter who attended that school was not given the questions AND answers before a test.

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  26. I think the biggest problem, from what I saw teaching at a top private university in Mexico, is the built in corruption through the grading and hiring systems. Grade elevation is maintained, not through payoffs, but by basing 100% of the decision to rehire a professor on upward grading from students. The students know this and trash a professor who doesn’t give them at least a B+. If professors want to be safe, they need to give at least A-‘s. Mexicans told me this problem is standard at almost all private universities there. I gave one team a B- when they deserved a D. They were furious and said they had never received such a low grade. All the report cards I saw were straight A’s or at worse had a B+.

    I have read comments from professors in the US lately stating that they are also rehired based on upward grading from students and need to give out at least a B to keep their jobs.

    Like

    • Richard says:

      Well, then, it seems the simple solution for a dedicated professor is to find another job. I’ve had to do it abroad on three occasions. I once had a U.S. colleague who gave out tea and cookies on evaluation day. He told me he’d only do that until he had tenure and could be the teacher he wanted to be. I told him that’s like being a whore for six years so you could become a virgin.

      Like

    • Adjuncts, no doubt. Thanks for pointing out that what’s going on in the US can amount to almost exactly the same thing.

      Like

  27. Anonymous says:

    I have been an expat teacher in the middle east since 1991. No-one ever offered me money for grades ( most likely due to my nationality), but some parents put pressure on me to change them to make access to university easier. As a proud naive young teacher I refused offering advice – do the work and I will revise the grade accordingly – I never had issues with behaviour. If a school allows this to happen, tolerate poor behaviour from rich students they become a zoo and the community knows it. These children do get into universities that I have not heard of – so in the real world they do not move far unless daddy owns the company and he often does. This is the real world players need to learn the rules to survive. My tip is teach your children never to accept an answer of “no!”. In life there is nearly always a back door. My daughter scored what I thought were amazing grades in Australia and wanted to do medicine. She did not get in Australia, moved to New Zealand to do Health and now is in Bahrain doing medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland – at their Bahrain Campus.

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  28. Mike Ebertz says:

    This happens pretty much everywhere except in the English-speaking countries and perhaps in western Europe. Often the foreign-born teachers give appropriate grades, but the administration changes them. I’ve seen it on 6 different countries where I’ve taught, from high school to university.

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  29. Althea says:

    I’ve seen a lot of corruption in Mexico at various schools, especially the Atid. Who the parents are can often be a deciding factor when it comes to grade time, and many of the cureent directors assist in the process.

    Like

  30. Sheera Stern says:

    I did see this in China in a very expensive school. All failing grades were changed at least to pass, and sometimes to much higher grades. And then the students went to US universities and failed. But here’s the thing: Eventually American schools will figure out who the worst offenders are among the international schools and stop taking their students. So grade-buying at your son’s school could turn around and bite you. So if you want to send your child to a US uni, you might want to: 1) speak to the school head; 2) choose a different school for your child.

    Like

  31. This happens in some schools, depending on the power of the parents, corruption in the country, fear teachers have of being fired and most of all when the grades are needed for university admission. It’s such a shame. There are many crazy things going on in international schools that come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

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  32. Jim Hawkins says:

    Can I ask what country this was? As whether this is a common occurrence or not is really dependent on the country.

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  33. I encountered this while teaching in Kuwait and ultimately it came down to being just too dangerous to not give A’s

    Yvonne Wakefield author of Suitcase Filled with Nails: Lessons Learned from Teaching Art in Kuwait

    Like

  34. KB from Beijing says:

    These students are learning the way life works for their parents’ social circle, which may be “appropriate” and valuable life-skills for the boy in question.

    Like

  35. Anonymous says:

    IMHO this can happen anywhere. At a school I taught in previously, we often wondered how some students had others do their work for them and still ‘graduated’. Grades were changed to appease parents, and to make the school look good. It does a disservice to ths child and when they went overseas barely were able to complete a year at uni. It comes full circle.

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  36. Jon Cristofer Miller says:

    While I never “caught” a student cheating, it was clear that some was happening. My only recourse was to lecture – and to warn in a guide for students planning to attend colleges in the US – that the direct consequences of cheating in the US were quite severe. I also posed the question: Since you all fly when you travel, how safe would you feel if the mechanics servicing the plane – and the pilot flying it – simply paid someone for their certifications. While it may not have triggered an immediate reaction, I think that the message begin to work its way through. Then again, maybe I am just the “hopeless romantic” a college professor dubbed me. ###

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  37. Been There, Got the T Shirt says:

    I saw this sort of stuff in Guatemala. I gave d a “C” grade and when I happened to see the report card quite by chance I noticed the grade was an “A”. I thought I should talk to the counseling office as there had obviously been some sort of glitch. They told me the only glitch was my poor teaching and everyone knows that this kid is an honor student and got a “C” because I can’t teach. That was rude. I never got any homework from this kid, no class participation and no response to the numerous notes I sent home both in writing, by internet and even one I placed in the father’s hand. I also called home more than once. Towards the end of the year the director was arrested with over 50K in cash stashed away in his locked file cabinet. Apparently he was not only negotiating grades with rich parents but skimming off some funds, too.

    Raising grades has to be hard on the kid. Think of it this way. As a kid you know you can’t be what your parents want you to be, so to make you look like you are, they pay the school to give you what they wish you had earned. And the worst is you know it. Talk about feeling like a failure.

    Like

  38. Lily says:

    depends on the teacher, too.

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  39. Torville says:

    When assessment is internal there is always room for corruption. Less so with IGCSE and AS/A2 as these are couriered to the school and are not opened until 30 min before the examination after being kept in a sealed package in a safe. This is so people can trust the grade the students get from these papers. It’s not fool proof but better than internally assessing IMHO.

    Like

  40. Richard says:

    Depends on the country.

    Like

    • Barbara says:

      You have to wonder why the Gulf countries even want western teachers(???). The school I was in (girls HS), was completely chaotic girls did no work and it was openly understood they would all get fabulous grades. Most will graduate a stones throw from illiterate in 2 languages. Its ingrained and these girls really have no clue what education is in other parts of the world.

      Like

      • Mike Ebertz says:

        These countries want western teachers because it is a huge factor in selling the school. However, no matter how much integrity we may have, we are window dressing. That’s why I will never work in most of these countries again. I certainly will never teach in a country or work in one, that has a religious-based government, Sharia, or overt inequality between men and women. It’s great that I have the skills to never have to do these things.

        Like

        • Barbara says:

          Hey Mike… I hear you. One big problem is there is such crossed information out there about these positions and the Middle East (big academic offenders where teacher have NO RIGHTS), lure you with attractive promises, free accommodations and utilities and extremely fabulous salaries. You don’t know how awful work can be until you have liquidated your home, car, etc; and signed that 2 year contract… And if you are in a country like Saudi Arabia you need the countries permission to leave, so doing a rabbit after your first paycheck (to cover your air fare), is difficult. See the recruiters DO NOT tell the applicants any of the bad stuff…

          Like

          • Mike Ebertz says:

            I understand all that. I will never work in such a place, no matter the money. My standards are too high and my values re: human rights do not fit in with these backwards places.

            Like

          • Anonymous says:

            People often mention that some countries require permission to leave. I have to ask why don’t teachers who want to bounce out not go to their respective country’s embassy about the school’s extortion?

            Like

            • Barbara says:

              A couple of reasons… 1) If you are smart you GET OUT OF THE COUNTRY FIRST. I have a very strong feeling you have NEVER been to the Middle East. NO ONE can tell you what its like. It is definitely something you cannot understand until you live having no rights. 2) You need to keep your Passport and get that all mighty visa to GET ON AN AIRPLANE. Going to the Embassy opens a can of worms and do you really think they just say “poor you” and hand you paperwork? Uh- NO… Do not misunderstand me. I LOVED living there. Free upscale villa, low cost of living, double the salary I can make here (North Carolina… They pay shit), great friends, travel… But I still have bruises from my administrators. I loved my girls- even though they did no work and behaved like lunatics half the time. But they were also sweet and were actually very attached to me by the end of the year. If I was 2 minutes late for class, they came looking for me. And if you notice, the teachers here are NOT complaining about their students, but the state of their jobs and the pressure to give unearned grades.

              Like

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