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Report: Baltimore City Public Schools changed more than 12,000 grades from failing to passing

Maryland Office of Inspector General for Education investigated city schools
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Posted at 6:46 PM, Jun 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 12:32:10-04

BALTIMORE — The Maryland Office of the Inspector General for Education released a report that reveals that more than 12,000 failing grades in the Baltimore City Public Schools were changed to passing grades during a five-year span.

The office investigated and allege that the school district "incorrectly documented and promoted students by changing failing grades to those of passing grades" from 2016 through 2020.

The report shows that teachers were allegedly pressured to change grades by their assistant principals, principals, or both.

The report alleges that assistant principals and principals received additional pressure from other education leaders at the Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters, called North Avenue.

The report looked at nearly 130 Baltimore City Schools between grades 6 through 12, and found 12,552 grades were changed from failing to passing.

Baltimore City Schools sent WMAR-2 News this statement:

The report issued by the Maryland Office of the Inspector General (OIGE) is a perplexing end to a nearly three-year review into grade changes in our school system. City Schools has shared gigabytes worth of data, thousands of pages of documents, and hours of interviews with OIGE to help the office better understand what occurred more than 3 years ago, before many of our current seniors entered high school.

As the OIGE’s report acknowledged, Dr. Sonja Santelises, CEO of City Schools launched an extensive overhaul of our grading policy – Board Policy IKA – to ensure that our grading is fair, equitable, and accurately reflects our students’ achievements. As a result of that overhaul, the Board adopted significant revisions in May 2019.

Over 20 pages of the report, the OIGE notes the challenges of implementing changes to our policy, but it did not find a violation of the law or financial improprieties. The incidents cited largely occurred before the policy change in 2019 and did not illustrate systemwide pressure to change grades.

Most significantly, the report did not make specific recommendations other than further review. Nevertheless, City Schools welcomes the opportunity to contract for an external review of grade changes made during the 2022-23 school year to ensure we maintain our path of continuous improvement. This will be the first school year after the main thrust of the pandemic, offering current data in a near-normal school environment.

Patterson High School had the most number of failing grades changed with 1,390 over the five years. Merganthaler had 780, Digital Harbor 480 and Vivian T. Thomas 419.

You can read the full report here.

The grade changes could have severely impacted the graduation rate within the Baltimore City Public Schools.

The report shows that while state officials interviewed Patterson High School staff, teachers said they were told that no student should have a final numeric grade of 58 or 59, and they were to be changed to a 60.

State education officials interviews a Baltimore City Public School manager at "North Avenue" who said a "student should not be one point away from a passing grade" and it was "common sense" to change that grade to reflect a passing score if the student deserved the change. The school official also said that "any teacher that doesn't do that is neglectful."

"A culture of fear and a veil of secrecy affected the BCPS system and kept many from speaking freely about misconduct," education officials said. "Regrettably, these actions delayed the completion of this investigation and hindered the truth-seeking process."

The Maryland Governor's Office responded to the Inspector General's report:

“The wrongdoing outlined in the Inspector General’s report is deeply disturbing to say the least, and parents and taxpayers deserve answers and accountability from the school system. We are closely reviewing the report to determine next steps.”

This report comes less than a year after Baltimore City Public Schools themselves issued an investigative report detailing how former leaders at one school schemed to alter student attendance, grade average, and graduation rates.

That came after City School administrators announced they would no longer make failing students repeat their grade levels.