BALTIMORE — Baltimore City Public Schools on Thursday issued an investigative report detailing how former leaders at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts schemed to alter student attendance, grade average, and graduation rates.
An initial investigation was launched in September 2019, around the same time the school's principal and assistant principal were placed on administrative leave.
Specific allegations date all the way back to the 2016-2017 school year, primarily involving just two other staffers besides the principal and assistant principal at the time.
The investigation found that the school's administrators pressured teachers and staff to change student grades, specifically seniors.
Teachers were instructed by school administrators to violate City Schools grading protocols by entering grades after the grading window had closed without proper authorization or documentation, and they were pressured to provide make-up work to students and create extra assignments, even if students did not attend class. Furthermore, school administrators asked teachers to recalculate student grades using make-up work that the students turned in late, curve students’ exam grades to make sure they passed, and allow students to take final exams after the exam period.
At least 15 Augusta Fells students were found to have improperly received passing grades between 2016 and 2019.
There are however some circumstances where a student's grade can be changed after a teacher first records them.
Some instances include when a student hands in make-up work, or when an assignment is accidentally omitted, or when a student on
long-term medical absence completes work through an alternative program, and of course in cases of legitimate calculation errors.
A second major finding of the investigation was that some students were enrolled in classes that they either did not attend or simply didn't exist.
For example, the investigation identified students who were enrolled in a yearbook class with a school administrator as the teacher of record, during the 2017-2018 school year through the 2019-2020 school year. While enrolled students were recorded as attending this class, there were no records of any class meeting, and no witness could verify the existence of the class. For approximately 10 students, this yearbook course was the only class in which they were enrolled at AFS in a particular year; others were enrolled in several other elective classes, such as journalism, and creative writing, under similarly questionable circumstances. This investigation also revealed instances where grading protocols were not followed. For example, the investigation identified a few cases in which a student was placed on a teacher’s class roster, but the teacher never saw the student; nevertheless, the student received a passing grade.
Initially it was thought that approximately 28 students who were not actively attending school remained on the rolls, but that changed after a further review during the 2019-2020 academic year which showed 100 students with questionable status.
That led investigators to uncover 69 instances where the school had received questionable per-pupil funding, without valid documentation to back up the numbers.
The third and final problem pointed out in the report was the school's failure to comply with requirements for so called credit recovery programs, such as evening and
Contrary to City Schools protocols, unqualified and untrained teachers were allowed to provide instruction for credit recovery; teachers were listed as teachers of record, but when interviewed, they indicated that they had not taught the class; and students were improperly allowed to complete work packets, which are not acceptable for credit recovery.
Three of the four involved staffers are no longer with the school system.
Since the investigation began, the school system says it's implemented a new grade changing process.
The grade change process now utilizes a technology platform, which permits better tracking and monitoring, as well as a historical grade auditing process; and City Schools is implementing checks and balances so that no single school staff person is solely responsible for any aspect of the grading entry or review process.
The entire report can be read here.