Technology in School

​Back-to-School Shenanigans to Watch: Changing How Grades Appear in Online Gradebooks

By Sydney Johnson     Aug 16, 2017

​Back-to-School Shenanigans to Watch: Changing How Grades Appear in Online Gradebooks

“Today, I thought I’d make a video once again on how to edit your PowerSchool page,” are the words that begin a YouTube video teaching a simple HTML hack that teachers and parents might want to give themselves a lesson in.

It’s not exactly a move from Mr. Robot, but some students have figured out a way to change how their grades appear on online to someone looking at a website presented to them, for a moment at least.

The simple HTML edit—not really a “hack” per se—involves going to a web page (like an online gradebook) in Google Chrome. A user right-clicks on the page and selects “Inspect Element,” revealing the page’s code. A student can hover over an element (like a grade), locate the appropriate piece of the code, and make a change in the text that appears on the web page.

Fortunately, there’s a quick fix: hit refresh and the page bounces back to normal. But for someone who might not know the trick, or a parent who only takes a quick glance at a device handed to them by a student, the simple change looks just as real as the original.

The aforementioned video, made in 2013, is not the only grade “hack” tutorial available online. Dozens of similar videos exist, and one Reddit user even claimed two years ago to be developing an app specifically designed to help students achieve change their grades even quicker. (It is unclear if the app has ever came to be.)

Education software company PowerSchool, which claims users in more than 13,000 districts across the country, is featured in the video. But it is far from being the only gradebook platform susceptible—really, any website using HTML can be edited this way. Some districts and companies are aware of the issue. 

“The best defense that PowerSchool provides for this is that the parents can sign in to the parent portal themselves," Nigel King, CIO at PowerSchool, wrote in an email. "They don’t have to have their child bring a computer to them with a doctored page already in the browser.”

For as long as there are grades, students may attempt to crack the system. Their efforts range from amateurish (like the aforementioned example) to the devious. And as recently as last week, a lawsuit was dismissed after a Chicago high school student allegedly “sent emails to teachers directing them to an impostor website, and got two of them to provide their login passwords, enabling him to change grades,” in the school’s PowerSchool system, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The Chicago Tribune also points out how a University of Central Florida student this year was charged for hacking into the grading system at the university. In April, a Texas student was found hacking into the school’s information system to change grades. In 2015, a high school student in Louisiana reportedly obtained a teacher’s PowerSchool password and would charge students to change their grades in the system. That case resulted in at least 45 suspensions.

Grades also aren’t the only target to be on the lookout for when preparing oneself for back-to-school shenanigans. One person claimed that they used the “inspect element” trick to change their middle school’s homepage to say “No School on 11/2” and left the computer on, supposedly convincing other students to not come to class. The user wrote, “It actually tricked a lot of kids and I ended up getting in a lot of trouble for it.”

This article has been updated with a comment from PowerSchool.

Technology in School

​Back-to-School Shenanigans to Watch: Changing How Grades Appear in Online Gradebooks

By Sydney Johnson     Aug 16, 2017

​Back-to-School Shenanigans to Watch: Changing How Grades Appear in Online Gradebooks

“Today, I thought I’d make a video once again on how to edit your PowerSchool page,” are the words that begin a YouTube video teaching a simple HTML hack that teachers and parents might want to give themselves a lesson in.

It’s not exactly a move from Mr. Robot, but some students have figured out a way to change how their grades appear on online to someone looking at a website presented to them, for a moment at least.

The simple HTML edit—not really a “hack” per se—involves going to a web page (like an online gradebook) in Google Chrome. A user right-clicks on the page and selects “Inspect Element,” revealing the page’s code. A student can hover over an element (like a grade), locate the appropriate piece of the code, and make a change in the text that appears on the web page.

Fortunately, there’s a quick fix: hit refresh and the page bounces back to normal. But for someone who might not know the trick, or a parent who only takes a quick glance at a device handed to them by a student, the simple change looks just as real as the original.

The aforementioned video, made in 2013, is not the only grade “hack” tutorial available online. Dozens of similar videos exist, and one Reddit user even claimed two years ago to be developing an app specifically designed to help students achieve change their grades even quicker. (It is unclear if the app has ever came to be.)

Education software company PowerSchool, which claims users in more than 13,000 districts across the country, is featured in the video. But it is far from being the only gradebook platform susceptible—really, any website using HTML can be edited this way. Some districts and companies are aware of the issue. 

“The best defense that PowerSchool provides for this is that the parents can sign in to the parent portal themselves," Nigel King, CIO at PowerSchool, wrote in an email. "They don’t have to have their child bring a computer to them with a doctored page already in the browser.”

For as long as there are grades, students may attempt to crack the system. Their efforts range from amateurish (like the aforementioned example) to the devious. And as recently as last week, a lawsuit was dismissed after a Chicago high school student allegedly “sent emails to teachers directing them to an impostor website, and got two of them to provide their login passwords, enabling him to change grades,” in the school’s PowerSchool system, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The Chicago Tribune also points out how a University of Central Florida student this year was charged for hacking into the grading system at the university. In April, a Texas student was found hacking into the school’s information system to change grades. In 2015, a high school student in Louisiana reportedly obtained a teacher’s PowerSchool password and would charge students to change their grades in the system. That case resulted in at least 45 suspensions.

Grades also aren’t the only target to be on the lookout for when preparing oneself for back-to-school shenanigans. One person claimed that they used the “inspect element” trick to change their middle school’s homepage to say “No School on 11/2” and left the computer on, supposedly convincing other students to not come to class. The user wrote, “It actually tricked a lot of kids and I ended up getting in a lot of trouble for it.”

This article has been updated with a comment from PowerSchool.

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