Maryland’s Inspector General for Education is calling on the state’s department of education to authorize a performance audit of Baltimore City school system after investigators found inconsistencies in grading practices.
Inspector General for Education Richard Henry on Tuesday released a 28-page report detailing his office’s examination of grading policies for the school system that enrolls an estimated 78,000 students. The report describes differing interpretations, applications and adherence to grade change procedures among high school staff.
Baltimore City school system did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon. Officials have until June 29 to submit a response or rebuttal to the inspector general’s findings.
The investigation centered largely on practices among teachers, assistant principals and principals of rounding up grades when a student was within one to three percentage points of passing. The minimum passing grade for a city school student is 60%. While Baltimore City school system policy states about 70% of a student’s grade is based on assignments and tests, the remaining 30% is discretionary — meaning schools have a lot of leeway to decide the criteria.
Investigators focused on Baltimore City high schools since grading policies at the elementary and middle school levels use “incomplete” to record failing grades. Officials identified more than 5,300 instances where grades were changed from a fail to a pass between 2016 and the end of the 2019-20 school year. Data for the 2019-20 school year is incomplete, but changes recorded before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when school systems decided to advance students at the end of the school year were included in the investigation.
Chief of schools John Davis, who oversees principals and daily classroom instruction, told investigators that grade changes can happen for a variety of reasons. A student may work with their teacher to complete assignments or take extra steps to demonstrate they understand the material. Another reason could be missed grading deadlines or long-term reliance on substitute teachers, who don’t have access to the grading system.
Davis said the key question is whether the student and teacher worked together to understand the material and whether the student earned the grade. He told investigators, “We have to trust our teachers and principals to be able to do that because there are just different situations.”
Still, investigators found that some principals and assistant principals directed educators to automatically bump all 58% and 59% grades up to a passing, according to redacted emails included in the report. The report does not delve into grade changes that occurred at levels higher than a failure, such as from 89% to 90%. And it was not immediately clear how the blanket policies of rounding up failing grades impacted matriculation or graduation rates.
The education watchdog for the state launched the investigation in September 2020 after fielding several complaints and allegations of systemic grade changes, including from the state’s now defunct Office of Education Accountability. The office fell under the purview of the governor’s Office for Children, which was closed in June 2020. The report also noted Fox45′s coverage in 2019 of grading inconsistencies at one city school.
According to the report, some employees were reluctant to speak with investigators, which delayed the investigation for an unspecified amount of time. Investigators interviewed top executives, former and current teachers, administrative staff and managers as well as reviewed student data, records and grade change forms.