Office investigating Maryland education up and running

For nearly two years, FOX 5 has been investigating allegations of grade inflation and weak attendance standards in Maryland high schools, as graduation rates have soared to nearly 88 percent statewide.

For the first time, Maryland State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon agreed to an interview with us about the issues.

When asked whether lax attendance standards and grade inflation has impacted Maryland's rising graduation rates Salmon replied, "I really can't comment on that because I don't have the data in front of me."

"Is that something that you're studying?" asked reporter Lindsay Watts.

"We are looking at a lot of things that have a relationship to chronic absenteeism," said Salmon. "So we'll have to see how that goes."

She says a new state office focused on investigating issues in Maryland schools is now up and running.

The Office of Education Accountability was created last year after several school scandals, including what FOX 5 uncovered about grade-fixing in Prince George's County Public Schools. We asked Salmon if what was found in that county could be a more widespread problem.

"We have established an office of compliance and monitoring," Salmon said. "And that is the function of this office- to look at those kinds of issues across the state. So we'll find out as we go and do our reviews this year."

FOX 5 just obtained attendance records from Montgomery County Public Schools that show nearly half the senior class (about 5,000 students) were chronically absent in at least one course last year. That means those students missed more than 20 days.

Also in Montgomery County, there are concerns about grade inflation after the district created a policy making it easier for students to get A's.

In Charles County, a records request revealed seniors graduating despite missing more than 50 days unexcused.

And in Prince George's County, the district had to do a system overhaul after an audit confirmed students graduating without meeting requirements. While a second audit showed strong improvement, it also revealed 60 percent of 2018 graduates in a sample group had excessive absences in a required course.

Meanwhile, FOX 5 has continued to hear concerns from high school teachers that there's pressure to pass students even if they're not doing the work. An educator from Charles County who didn't want to be identified said: "It doesn't matter if you come or not, you're going to pass,"

Salmon said she has not heard similar complaints from educators.

For more on how to contact Maryland's Office of Education Accountability, click here.