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Grade changes caused by spreadsheet slip-up

An incident of grade-changing on an MIT computer -- investigated last week as a computer hacking incident -- has turned out to be a simple slip-up in the computerized sorting of names and grades on a spreadsheet.

The case was publicized in The Tech on Tuesday, March 7 and was picked up by the Boston Globe as a front-page story on March 9.

Later that morning, Professor Harvey Lodish informed an MIT spokesman that the mystery was solved. He said the changes were made by mistake by a person authorized to enter grades. The professor declined to identify the person.

The sorting of a grades spreadsheet is done by using a computer mouse to highlight the two columns of names and corresponding grades. In this case, there was a slip-up in the use of the mouse and only the column of names was sorted, resulting in grades being assigned to the wrong people. The error raised the grades of two students and lowered the grades of 20 students.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 15, 2000.

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