REVELATIONS OF irregularities in high school grading practices in Prince George's public schools have shaken the county. The controversy has cast a cloud over the jump in graduation rates, a source of pride for county officials who cite the increase from 74.1 percent in 2013 to 81.4 percent in 2016 as a sign of an improving school system. More troubling is that some students might have graduated without the skills or knowledge needed to succeed. Good, then, that school officials are taking the matter seriously with plans to tighten procedures and improve accountability.
Kevin Maxwell, chief executive of the school system, recently unveiled a 40-page plan that calls for stricter controls in changing grades and certifying graduation plans. The plan, which also includes stepped-up monitoring of student absenteeism and added training for school employees, will be submitted to the State Board of Education.
An independent review commissioned by the state board had uncovered problems with grading, including grades changed after cutoff dates, a lack of documentation and a troubling absence of oversight. Examination of randomly selected records for 1,212 students with late grade changes in 2016 and 2017 found problems in about 30 percent of the cases. The report by auditors from a D.C. firm cautioned against extrapolating the findings for the larger population of 15,215 graduates from the two-year period. Significantly — and contrary to claims of critics of Mr. Maxwell and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) — there was no evidence of systemic corruption to boost graduation rates through wanton grade changes.
Grade changes are not unique to Prince George's high schools; and while there can be valid reasons for them, they often stoke controversy, as witnessed by similar revelations about Ballou High School in neighboring D.C. But in Prince George's, the issue has become entwined with school board infighting that sadly has long been a staple of county politics. A minority bloc on the school board took their complaints (now debunked) about systemic corruption to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who, facing a possible electoral challenge from Mr. Baker, was quick to seize on the issue, prompting the unprecedented state audit.
What must not get lost in all the political posturing are Prince George’s students and the need to make sure the diplomas they receive have real meaning.