School System Audit Inconclusive on Grade Tampering in High Schools

Prince George’s County

by: Hamil R. Harris Special to the AFRO
/ (Courtesy photo) /
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Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III is defending a 200 page audit that raises questions about whether or not school officials engaged in a wide scale grade fraud to help students graduate.

County Executive Rushern Baker is
defending the results of an audit conducted
on the Prince George’s County Public
Schools. (Courtesy Photo)

The audit was unable to verify whether 24.5 percent of graduated seniors, the sample assessed, had their grades changed for the sole purpose of boosting the County’s graduation rate. In response to the audit, released by the Maryland State Department of Education regarding Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) graduation rates, Baker said nothing was found that incriminates the school system.

“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 in a statement.  “No other school district in the State of Maryland has had a comprehensive audit of its graduation records like Prince George’s County.  This audit is unprecedented and it was the second review of our graduation practices by the State Board of Education.”

Baker said the audit should be used as a catalyst to improve oversight of the state graduation certification process and to develop clear standards that school districts must adhere to. However, former Board of Education member Beverly Anderson said the results of the audit and the need for such a review is troubling. Anderson resigned earlier this year because she disagreed with the direction of the board.

“I am not surprised with the findings of the audit report, and I am deeply concerned about the four summary findings,” she wrote in a letter to the AFRO.

Anderson said that her concerns were in four areas:

1) PGCPS’s governance structure has performance gaps;

2) PGCPS staff does not consistently adhere to policies and procedures related to grading and graduation certification;

3) School level record keeping for grading and graduation certification is poor; and

4) Irregularities in grade changes were identified.

The audit report found problems of attendance as compared to the graduation rate in the Prince George’s County Public Schools. The focus should not be on board members who brought the allegations of grade changing, some of whom faced retaliatory measures, , Anderson said.

The report said that out of the 28 high schools that were cited for poor record keeping in relation to graduation certification, at least 96 percent of those schools did not adhere to policies and procedures for grading timelines and attendance and 68 percent had irregularities that resulted in graduation rate increases.

“There is no doubt that PGCPS has made progress by increasing enrollment, offering more rigorous programs, expanding early learning and preparing more students for college and careers,” Baker said in a statement. “However, there is more work to do and I expect PGCPS, as well as students and parents, to continue their efforts to move our school system forward.”

Even though the report could not specifically say whether grade tampering in graduation rates occurred, some board members, such as Edward Burroughs said they feel as if the audit has diverted attention away from properly teaching students. According WTOP, Maxwell will ask for a follow up review next year.

Washington D.C. Editor LaTrina Antoine contributed to this article.

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