Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker stands behind the CEO of the county's public school system, amid the results of an audit that revealed students are graduating without meeting Maryland state requirements.
In a live interview on FOX 5 News Morning Monday, Baker defended Dr. Kevin Maxwell, standing by his assertion that grade fixes were the result of poor training and clerical errors. The report released Friday shows that in the last two years, nearly 5,500 of graduating seniors had grades increased after the final grade entry cutoff date.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in an interview with FOX 5's Lindsay Watts on Saturday that he’s outraged by results of the audit.
“We’re going to make sure that the county gets to the bottom of it, and we’re sorry that the parents, students and teachers seem to have been cheated in Prince George’s County,” Hogan said in an interview with FOX 5.
Auditors selected a random sample from those students and performed a closer evaluation of records. They found that nearly 5% of students surveyed were ineligible to graduate and about 25% didn’t have proper records to determine if they were eligible.
“If this is true, and I believe that it is, it’s outrageous and unacceptable that something is definitely wrong with the Prince George’s County School system, and we’re cheating the kids by having this kind of thing where people are getting grades fixed and graduating,” said Hogan. “So the superintendent of schools kind of dismissed and said it was just lack of crossing t’s and dotting i’s. It sounds much more serious to me, and I think that the county needs to take it more seriously.”
Baker stands by Dr. Maxwell
After the report came out Friday, PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell was quick to point out that investigators didn’t find evidence of system-wide fraud as was alleged by board members who asked Hogan for a state investigation. Maxwell and school board chair Segun Eubanks blamed poor record keeping and staff training for the audit findings.
“We don’t see a problem with instruction in most cases,” Maxwell told reporters. “Again, we have kids who go to some of the finest colleges and institutions across the country. This is about checking boxes, sloppy record keeping, not teaching and learning.”
On FOX 5 Monday, Baker agreed with Maxwell and his belief that the grade fixes were due to clerical errors and poor training. He also said he has full confidence in Maxwell.
"I said at the very beginning of this investigation, if there was a sign that there was direction from Dr. Maxwell's office or his key staff to have these grades changed or have anything like that, not only would Dr. Maxwell go, but his key staffers would go. The report did not find that. They found that we have challenges in Prince George's County, which we always knew, but we're making progress."
Baker said the school system plans to use the audit's findings as a "road map" to move forward, and to improve further, pointing out several times the progress he says they have already made since Maxwell took over.
"We've made tremendous progress, not just in our school system, but in the county as a whole -- but especially in our school system. We've seen more parents put their children back into our school system. We've seen that growth over the last four years. So anything like this is disturbing, but what we do from it is, we correct it. We make sure that we make the changes in the county to make sure this doesn't happen anymore."
Hogan: Sloppy record keeping is 'complete nonsense'
When asked about the notion of sloppy record keeping being to blame for the findings, Hogan replied, “I think that’s complete nonsense. This was a very thorough and complete investigation and so far, we’re extremely upset and outraged with the results.”
Baker told FOX 5 he was "very disappointed" in Governor Hogan's comments, calling education a state responsibility. He added that said that if Hogan really cared about education in Maryland, he would have the state look into what is going on in other counties as well.
What the report said
The audit, performed by D.C. consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal, found PGCPS “does not consistently monitor adherence to grading policies and procedures,” that “grades are regularly submitted and changed after quarterly cut-off dates, and “a significant number of 2016 and 2017 graduates had unlawful absences in excess of 10 days.”
It found in the 2015-16 school year, about 38% of graduates had more than 10 unlawful absences. In 2016-17 it went up to 44%. That year, 159 students graduated even though they had more than 50 unlawful absences.
The report goes on to say that while reviewing student records, investigators found “handwritten marking on transcripts where schools are performing math to determine the grade change required for a student to pass a class.”
Investigators noted “multiple instances where student transcripts were updated after students had already graduated. In some instances, transcripts were modified after the commencement of this investigation.”
FOX 5 obtained a whistleblower email to Alvarez and Marsal from a high school employee claiming she and others were instructed to modify student records before investigators visited their school after getting a tip from an employee at a different school on what investigators were looking for.
Prince George's County Schools now has 60 days to respond to the report and submit a plan to the state showing how it will improve its processes and governance.
FOX 5 was first to report that four school board members contacted Gov. Hogan to request an investigation into what they called widespread, systemic fraud to boost the graduation rate. Multiple school staff members corroborated the allegations when interviewed about their own experiences.
Increasing the graduation rate has been a signature achievement of Dr. Maxwell. Since 2012, the rate has gone up from 73% to 81%.
Despite the alarming findings by auditors, Dr. Maxwell is still criticizing the board members who asked for the investigation, saying it became “political” when they contacted the governor. Both Maxwell and Eubanks said the investigation should have been handled internally.
“There’s nothing political about it and what they just said was completely dishonest because they repeatedly refused to do the investigation,” Hogan said. “And only after the legislators representing Prince George’s County begged for help did the state step in.”
Hogan noted that the entire Prince George’s County delegation to the legislature unanimously requested the state investigate.
PGCPS spokesman John White tells FOX 5 students will not lose their diploma if they’re found to have graduated in error, but they will be notified. The district has established an email address for graduates and their parents who are concerned about their eligibility, firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOX 5's coverage on grade-fixing allegations in Prince George's County Public Schools: