WASHINGTON - The final report on the investigation into grade-fixing and fraud allegations to boost the graduation rate in Prince George's County Public Schools states that almost 5 percent of students of a sample group from the 2017 graduating classes should not have graduated because they did not have enough credits.
The report, released by Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services, an independent firm hired by the state to conduct the investigation, also stated that it couldn’t determine the eligibility for 25 percent of graduates.
The audit looked at a sample group of more than 1,200 students out of more than 5,000 that were identified as having late grade change increases after final grade entry cutoff.
The graduation eligibility of hundreds of other students could not be determined because of insufficient or no documentation to support grade changes.
The study also stated that a “significant number of 2016 and 2017 graduates had unlawful absences in excess of 10 days, indicating grading polices related to attendance are not being followed by some schools.” There was also evidence schools did not follow the grade entry procedure properly.
The Maryland State Department of Education released the following statement to FOX 5:
“The Maryland State Board of Education and State Superintendent are deeply concerned by the report’s findings and have asked PGCPS to respond within 60 days and submit to the MSDE a plan to improve its processes and governance. In January, PGCPS will present its response to the Board, which will then review the county’s plans for remediation and determine what, if any, additional state action is required.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's Office released a statement saying:
"Based on an initial review of the investigative report, Governor Hogan is extremely troubled by its findings. It clearly indicates that the Prince George’s County school system is failing to properly educate far too many students, and is actively betraying the community’s trust – willfully compromising students’ opportunity for future success. Every Maryland student deserves a first-class education, and the Hogan administration will continue to demand that they receive one."
This audit was supposed to bring answers on whether these allegations of systematic fraud and intimidation exists, but the Prince George’s County school board is still divided even with the new data that has been provided.
However, both Maxwell and Eubanks blamed the discretions on school staff, saying there needed to be more effective communication and training on grading policies and recordkeeping. They also scolded other board members for turning this into a political issue.
Both the PGCPS CEO and school board chairman admit there is room for improvement, but pointed out the report showed there was no systemic fraud or intimidation, which has been alleged by several whistleblowers who have spoken to FOX 5.
“I have never done that,” Maxwell said. “I have said all along I have never done that. My team has never done that and this report says that we have never done it. When those accusations are made, they are not about improving the system. Those accusations are made about trying to disrupt and turn over leadership again in Prince George’s County."
He added, “Because a grade is changed doesn't mean it was wrong, illegal. There are lots of legitimate reasons why those happen.”
“We believe that many of these issues could have been addressed through the board’s own internal auditors in collaboration with leadership,” said Eubanks. “It’s our understanding when it’s all said and done, this audit will cost about a half million dollars. We believe similar conclusions would have been reached at a much lower cost, both financially and in terms of the distraction created by our community over the past few months.”
There were many school board members at the podium on Friday with Dr. Maxwell, but there have been two members from the start who have been steadfast in their allegations that these issues stem from the top.
School board members David Murray and Edward Burroughs said the new report proves what they have been saying all along. However, they also point out that some information was missing in the investigation, such as interviews with the whistleblowers.
“We did not feel confident the school system would take action on it,” said Murray. “I think we heard today from their tone and their comments that they really wouldn't have taken action because what I heard today was a CEO and a board chair celebrating the fact that they were not directly tied, but that we still graduated hundreds, if not over 1,000 students in past year alone who did not meet the state graduation requirements and that is very troubling.”
“There was a lot of spin and a lot of celebration, which was disgusting in my view,” said Burroughs. “But then the board chair had a moment of honestly and he said investigators did not look for intent, which is accurate from our assessment. Alvarez & Marsal is an auditing firm. They look at documents. They had no access to emails. They could not force anyone to be interviewed by them, and in the next coming weeks and months, time will tell.”
Murray and Burroughs said more about that will come out on Monday when they hold their own press conference.
Meanwhile, Dr. Maxwell said the school board will be taking appropriate disciplinary actions to improve monitoring and oversight of grades, and will request another independent review next year to assess the progress.
FOX 5's coverage on grade-fixing allegations in Prince George's County Public Schools: