Prince George's County Public Schools Audit Finds Grading Irregularities

A state-ordered audit of Prince George's County Public Schools amid allegations of grade-changing to boost graduation rates found irregularities.

School staff changed grades after quarterly cut-off dates, kept poor records and received little oversight from the school district, the report issued Friday says.

"The District does not consistently monitor adherence to grading policies and procedures. Leadership generally trusts school-based staff will follow policies and procedures, but does not verify adherence," the report says.

In a sample of the total 2016 graduating class, more than 20 percent of students had grades changed without documentation. In 2017, that figure was more than 14 percent.

The report did not show evidence of system-wide fraud. 

Still, the Maryland State Board of Education and State Superintendent are "deeply concerned" by the report's findings, a statement says. 

PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell said that while the "audit did identify several errors made at many schools," it did not support " allegations of systemic direction to change grades to artificially increase graduation rates," he said in a statement. "The auditors also found no financial incentives to change grades, and no evidence of system-wide intimidation or fraud related to the allegations of grade manipulation."

PGCPS is asked to respond to the report within 60 days and submit a plan for improvement. 

The state of Maryland announced in August that they hired a company to evaluate graduation rates, amid allegations that teachers and principals inflated grades and ignored students' absences in order to boost graduation rates.

The D.C. company Alvarez & Marsal conducted the audit after claims that Gov. Larry Hogan called troubling.

“Ensuring that all Maryland children have access to a world-class education is a top priority of my administration, and I am deeply troubled by these allegations regarding one of our school systems, which have now been brought to my attention by multiple sources,” Hogan wrote in a June 25 letter to State Board of Education Board President Andrew Smarick.

PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell previously said it's false that the school system allows students to graduate even if their grades are too low or they have too many absences.

"From the beginning, I have maintained that politics lie at the root of these accusations. There has been no systemic effort to promote students in Prince George's County Public Schools who did not meet state graduation requirements in order to inflate our graduation rates. We look forward to collaborating with the Maryland State Department of Education to resolve this matter," he said in a statement issued in June.

Prince George's County executive Rushern Baker urged the Governor and State Board of Education to improve oversight of the state graduation process and develop clearer standards. He directed Maxwell to develop an aggressive plan of action to correct the issues found in the audit.

"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. No other school district in the State of Maryland has had a comprehensive audit of its graduation records like Prince George’s County," Baker said in a statement.

A whistleblower who works for a high school in the county told investigators student records were changed after the investigation began.

“Several of the high school's graduates did not meet core requirements, so once the high school heard what investigators were looking for, an assistant principal, registrar, guidance chair and 3 guidance counselors changed student records," the whistleblower wrote to investigators in an email obtained by News4.

The auditors set up a tip line for anyone who believes grades have been changed or absences have been ignored, but many teachers said they were not aware of it.

"We bump into teachers that say, 'Hey, we have information,' and a lot of them have not put those concerns into writing to investigators yet because they didn't know that they could," school board member Ed Burroughs previously said.

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