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Summary of City Schools’ Response to the OIGE Review on Grading

In early June, the Maryland Office of the Inspector General (OIGE) released the results of a multi-year review of grade changes in Baltimore City Public Schools. 

The OIGE described its report findings as “issues of concern that would not constitute a criminal violation of State law.” Yet, shortly after the report was issued, Maryland’s Governor made a public plea for state and federal criminal investigation.

The OIGE gave City Schools until June 29 to offer an official response to the report. We are publishing the response on the City Schools’ website and sharing it with our audiences. 

The following is a summary of our June 29 response:

  • City Schools takes the integrity of grades extremely seriously
    • We acknowledge that there is room for improvement.
    • We plan to continue to build on our progress, so that the entire community can be confident that students’ report cards reflect the grades they have earned.
  • City Schools was transparent and collaborative
    • City Schools worked collaboratively with the OIGE, sharing gigabytes worth of data, thousands of pages of documents, and hours of interviews. 
  • No criminal wrongdoing was found by the OIGE
    • In the final sentence of the report, the OIGE described the findings as issues that would not constitute a criminal violation of State law.
  • City Schools began an overhaul of our grading policy in 2017, and the Board adopted policy revisions in 2019
    • These policy revisions, as well as updates to our administrative regulations, enhance safeguards against inappropriate grading practices, while also clarifying the circumstances when grade changes are necessary and entirely legitimate.
    • Based on City Schools’ policy revisions, principals received detailed guidance; revised and updated training was developed for grade reporters; and central office staff designed protocols for reviewing requests for grade changes to ensure consistency with Board policy. 
    • The OIGE acknowledged these improvements over time. As the OIGE noted and City Schools agrees, there is still more work to be done to fully and consistently implement these policy changes. City Schools is committed to doing this work.
  • Grade changes are important to ensuring students have fair and accurate grades
    • The purpose of grading is to evaluate students' learning and performance. There are many legitimate reasons to change grades. In assessing student learning, unforeseen circumstances, data entry error, or miscalculation may result in an incorrect grade on a students’ report card. 
  • The 12,500 grades cited by the OIGE are less than 1 percent of grades issued during the four-year period that the OIGE reviewed
    • The OIGE’s review primarily focused on approximately 12,500 City Schools grade changes from failing to passing at the high school level from 2016-2017 through 2019-2020. These changes account for far less than one percent of the approximately 2,400,000 grades earned by high school students during the four-year period.
  • The OIGE did not identify systemwide, ongoing pressure to change grades 
    • The incidents cited by the OIGE largely occurred before the policy changes in 2019. 
    • The OIGE did not describe the specific circumstances that gave rise to most of these grade changes. The evidence that the OIGE did provide is insufficient to rule out that these grade changes were made for entirely legitimate purposes. 
    • The OIGE spotlighted the smaller subset of grade changes from a failing grade of 58 or 59 to a passing grade of 60. Yet students often are motivated to make up work to earn the last one or two points for a passing grade.
  • The report does not support OIGE’s allegations about a “culture of fear” and a “veil of secrecy” in City Schools.
    • City Schools’ Office of Legal Counsel offered to contact employees to set up interviews, make clear that we were fully cooperating with the investigation, and allay any concerns about participating. But the OIGE instead reached out directly to employees, most of whom had never been contacted by a state investigating agency, thereby creating unnecessary anxiety and confusion. 
    • Before the OIGE launched its investigation, City Schools proactively analyzed grading data and launched a series of internal investigations. Although the OIGE reviewed records of these investigations, its report did not mention them or the actions that City Schools took to respond to substantiated misconduct, such as the recent investigation at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts.
  • City Schools will contract for an independent review of grading during the 2022-2023 school year
    • The OIGE did not make specific recommendations other than further review through an independent performance audit. 
    • City Schools welcomes the opportunity to contract with an external entity, focusing on grading practices during the 2022-2023 school year. That is the first school year after the main thrust of the COVID pandemic, offering current data in a hopefully near-normal school environment.
  • City Schools will benefit from assistance from MSDE and is open to sharing insights with other governmental entities
    • City Schools greatly appreciates the support offered by MSDE to assist in these further improvement efforts. 
    • If other government entities are interested, City Schools is open to sharing information and insight with them, pursuant to their statutory authority, to ensure a clear understanding of student grading.