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Fire Erases Grades for 22,000 Students in D.C.

If you're a student living in the Information Age, you've likely pondered the idea of using technology to change your grades. If not, you've probably hoped – at least a time or two – that your poor grades would be replaced and somehow uncounted toward your final average. And that's exactly what happened to the schools within the Washington County Public School system.

What Exactly Happened?

Unfortunately, the incident is as light-hearted as a tech-savvy student changing or erasing grades. The loss is a direct result of a small fire which, thankfully, was rather limited. In the end, students no longer have access to any official grades that were given between April 3 and 29, 2018.

District officials were able to recover student grades from the first, second and third marking periods, leaving only the fourth marking period – springtime – left in an unrecoverable state. Teachers are left with several options to make up for the lost grades.

Most teachers and administrators maintain an alternate, secondary method for assigning and maintaining grades. Separate grade books, database systems and even finished student reports all provide feasible backups. The information simply needs to be re-entered into the main system.

If no alternate methods were used and no previous grades are available, teachers will "take the students' best interests into consideration" when determining the absence of any crucial tests or assignments. In this case, teachers simply continue entering grades as normal from April 30 onward.

Teachers who have grades for some students but not for others are left to their own devices when splitting grades fairly.

Moving On

Officials with the school district are eager to move on. Since they've already restored their master system, known as Synergy, they've established plans to investigate the incident and make the necessary corrections wherever they are needed.

A recent press release reads, in part: "As we work through the restoration of the Synergy system, please understand we are also identifying how this will be prevented in the future. Our WCPS servers are currently backing up to the new system, which will give us greater reliability in maintaining information and preventing a long-term outage moving forward."

Erin Anderson, a spokeswoman for WCPS, said in a statement: "We want to find the answers behind what happened, but the bottom line is, a technology outage of this nature involving student school information for this period of time is unacceptable," WCPS spokeswoman Erin Anderson said Thursday. "Regardless of whose fault it is, this shouldn't be the case right now."

She finished her statement by saying: ''"We're determining the logistics and the mechanics behind what occurred," and: "There are still questions that we have, that board members have, that parents, teachers, our school administrators, Synergy users have. We still have a lot of questions and we share in that frustration."

The Case for Data Archival and Redundancy

Incidents like this only highlight the need for consistent data archival and redundancy. Although the datasets lost were only a few days old, maintaining a system that features automated, nightly archival would have prevented such a catastrophic loss. Nonetheless, it seems everyone with WCPS is ready to move forward and put this event behind them.


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