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UPPER MARLBORO — After an update on the graduation audit that began in 2017, the Maryland State Board of Education approved of the progress that Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has made in implementing the recommendations given to them in a meeting that took place on Jan. 23.
After receiving an update from Interim CEO Monica Goldson, the State Board of Education complimented the work PGCPS has done to implement the recommendations of last years’ audit. Board President Jim Hartings said that PGCPS’ grading and accountability system is among the best in Maryland.
“I would almost guarantee that’s true not only because of the seriousness and purpose that you bring to clearly addressing this, but because your county has been scrutinized in a way that none other has and it’s clear that you really believe what you said.”
The audit began back in 2017 when the U.S. Department of Education investigated the PGCPS graduation rates following a claim that then-CEO Kevin Maxwell had forced educators to change the grades of high school grade levels to boost graduation rates. It was found that there seemed to be nothing to indicate that the grades had been manipulated.
“The false allegations about our graduation rates strike at everything that Prince George’s County schools stand for – past, present and future,” Maxwell said in a statement at the time.
In an effort to bring closure to the speculation, Maxwell and the majority of the PGCPS Board of Education requested from State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen B. Salmon that threre be another investigation into the graduation rates.
The independent performance audit was released in October of 2017, done by auditing firm Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services. Conducted over seven weeks, the performance audit, based on interviews with external PGCPS stakeholders and leadership, a review of Maryland statutes and code and PGCPS policies and procedures, student data collected from SchoolMAX and student record files reviewed during site visits for 28 high schools, compiled some findings.
They found PGCPS governance structure had performance gaps where they did not consistently monitor adherence to grading policies and procedures. The policies lacked clarity, and the PGCPS staff did not consistently adhere to policies and procedures related to grading and graduation certification, school-level recordkeeping related to grading and graduation certification was poor and they identified irregularities in grade changes such as graduating ineligible students and excessive extra credit opportunities for failing students.
They also listed many recommendations to improve their policies including clarifying policies and procedures and providing regular training to increase awareness, automation of recordkeeping and increased controls to minimize the potential risk of mismanagement and increase monitoring and accountability to ensure adherence to grading policies.
Starting in July 2018, Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services began a follow-up audit to assess how well PGCPS had implemented the recommendations from the last audit.
“As a system, our shared goal is to prepare students for the rigors of higher education and the workplace,” Goldson said at the time. “Diplomas and grades must reflect high academic standards and strong accountability systems. We owe no less to our students and their futures.”
This second audit found that PGCPS fully or partially addressed 38 of the 40 unique recommendations and fully implemented two of the recommendations.
They found that the school system greatly reduced the degree to which grade changes were used and misused and nearly eliminated issues with graduating students who have not met transcript or service learning requirements among other positive changes.
Among the ongoing changes that PGCPS says they will make to further address the audit are providing substantial training for all administrators, improve timelines of grade submissions and proactively identify and address system issues.
“I’m a product of Prince George’s County Public Schools, so the meaning of that diploma is important to me because it meant a lot to me. And so last year we lost our students in this conversation, and I am committed to making sure we don’t lose that focus this year,” Goldson said during the meeting.
Over the next few months, the goal for PGCPS will be to continue their efforts to improve on the recommendations of the audit.
By the end of the school year in June, the plan will be to increase the amount of training to ensure that all schools are entering credits correctly and by the next school year in August, they will improve the consistent use of grade change forms and standardize the late-grade entry process.
During the meeting, Hartings said it said a lot to him that Goldson and PGCPS Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton were able to answer all of the questions from the State Board of Education and knew what was happening in the school system.
“That tells me that you are highly engaged in the process, that you know what your staff is doing, that you set a high expectation for them, that you hold them accountable because you know the answers to the questions,” Hartings said. “Not that the people behind you aren’t your right and left-hand men and women doing the work, but your engagement in this process is obvious.”
Vermelle Greene, who represents Charles County, said she retired from PGCPS years ago and at one point when she worked in the school system, it was nationally renowned.
“I sincerely hope that the turnaround is coming where people will begin again to be coming to Prince George’s County to find out the success stories that you have,” she said.