A state document claims nearly 5,500 Prince George’s County high school students had grades changed during their senior year, according to an audit ordered by the Maryland Department of Education.
The state hired Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services of Northwest in August to investigate the problem state officials called “deeply concerned by the report’s findings.”
Investigators randomly sampled 1,212 students in the 2016 and 2017 school years and discovered nearly 30 percent either didn’t have proper documentation to determine if they’re worthy of graduating, or simply ineligible.
Of the students sampled, about 5 percent “were determined to be ineligible to graduate due to a student not earning sufficient credits on their transcript to graduate or a student not meeting the service learning requirement.”
“The District does not consistently monitor adherence to grading policies and procedures,” according to the 211-page document released Friday, Nov. 3. “Leadership generally trusts school-based staff will follow policies and procedures, but does not verify adherence.”
In addition, investigators found rampant absenteeism. The state requires students who miss 10 or more unexcused days for any class receive an “E.” The class of 2017 had 159 students who incurred 50 “unlawful” absences.
“This analysis demonstrates the potential risk that a high number of students graduated despite the procedural requirement that students with excessive absences receive an E,” the report said.
The seven-week investigation also outlined complaints from teachers, parents, staff and one student such as guidance counselors changing grades without the consent of a teacher and the school system just “push[ed] students through to graduation with limited reading, writing, or mathematics skills.”
The document notes the findings cannot be assumed to hold true to the larger population of the 15,215 students of the previous two graduating classes because of the randomly sampled students of nearly 5,500.
It also notes no systemwide school collusion took place to boost grades, which some in the Prince George’s community have claimed.
“We will use these findings to strengthen the school system’s policies, procedures, processes and practices,” Prince George’s schools CEO Kevin Maxwell said in a statement. “Many of the issues revealed in the state’s audit will be resolved with clearer policies, consistent adherence to official procedures, better use of technology, improved and more frequent training and better monitoring and communication. It is clear that we need to act with urgency to reform longstanding practices in our schools.”
The audit, which noted all 28 high and specialty schools maintained “poor record keeping” on graduation requirements, offered several recommendations, including:
• School system should provide clarity and training on grading procedures;
• Ensure policies of makeup work are outlined and consistently applied at all schools; and
• Conduct a complete audit of SchoolMAX, an online portal used by teachers to posts grades that can be reviewed by students and parents, because grades are not entered in a timely fashion.
The county has 60 days to submit a plan to the state Department of Education. In January, the state’s Board of Education will review county’s plan for remediation and determine if any additional state action may be required. The full document can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2znN5B8.
Meanwhile, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III continued to express his support for Maxwell.
Baker, who’s running in the Democratic primary for governor, criticized state officials in an issued statement.
“As we suspected, the audit did not reveal any corruption or top-down mandates from Dr. Maxwell’s office or other PGCPS leadership to change or fix grades,” Baker said. “No other school district in the state of Maryland has had a comprehensive audit of its graduation records like Prince George’s County. These mixed results from the state clearly show there is a need for the governor and the state Board of Education to use this audit as a catalyst to improve their oversight of the state graduation certification process and to develop clear standards that school districts must adhere to.”
Paul Montiero, who’s running in the Democratic primary to replace Baker as county executive, also released a statement.
“As a proud graduate of the Prince George’s County Public Schools, the audit released [Friday] is a troubling reminder that there’s much more needed to strengthen our education system and truly treat teachers as professionals,” Montiero said. “As county executive, my paramount goal is to bolster our education system to ensure our schools are preparing all students for college or career success. We’ve waited long enough for world-class public schools in Prince George’s County.”