An outside audit of Baltimore City Public Schools’ grading practices released Tuesday found none of the systemic problems that had been uncovered in a scathing investigation by the state’s Office of Inspector General in 2022.

The OIG found 12,500 instances across the system where failing grades were changed to allow high school students to pass a class from 2016 to 2020. In particular, the investigation looked at how teachers and administrators in city schools had rounded up grades of 57 and 58 to a 60 so that a student passed the class rather than failed.

The OIG investigation found that the grade changing could have affected graduation rates and suggested that the city school board immediately hire a firm to do an independent audit of grading during the 2022-23 school year.

The board hired Alvarez & Marsal, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm, to do the audit for about $500,000. Their report, released Tuesday evening at a school board meeting, says they found “no evidence of widespread grade manipulation in city schools during 2022-2023.“

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Grade changes, the report said, “were limited in their scale and impact” and were mostly in elementary schools where grades had been entered late.

“I think we’ve found it quite encouraging,” said Rachel Pfeifer, executive director of academics at the city schools. The school system has already scheduled a review of its grading policies this year and will be considering some of the consultant’s recommendations.

On Wednesday morning, Richard Henry, the Inspector General, said in a statement that he “applauds the improvements.” He said the audit demonstrates that his “findings and recommendations were taken seriously, and policies and procedures are now in place to protect the integrity of the grading system.”

City schools CEO Sonja Santelises and the school board had begun adjusting its grading policies in 2017 before the investigation began, but after discovering significant problems at one school in 2019, the system reworked the policy again. The OIG report showed that the grade changing had been improving slightly over time, but noted that the investigation had been hindered by staff who were fearful of speaking to the investigators.

Alvarez & Marsal looked at more than 18 million grades entered for the school system’s 76,000 students.

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They found 4,091 changes to final grades, which were made after grades were due and required the approval of an administrator, as well as the district office. The grade changes affected 2,678 students and were less than 1% of the grades recorded.

When the auditors examined those 4,000 grade changes, they found that in more than 3,000 cases teachers had entered grades past the deadline, but grades had not been changed. In only four cases did they find that a failing grade had been changed to a passing grade. In more than 400 cases, the grade was a passing grade and remained a passing grade after it was changed. In 35 cases, a passing grade was changed to a failing grade.

“One of the helpful recommendations from Alvarez and Marsal was to have a clear, narrow and well-documented path for exceptions,” Pfeifer said. When there’s a situation in which a student’s grade needs to be updated, “we want to be able to do so in a way that has clear documentation and explanation for why the changes are happening.”

The school system’s calendar for the next school year includes half a day at the end of grading periods for teachers to complete entering the grades, Pfeifer said, a change that would help ensure that grades can be entered on time.

The consultant said that grade changes were often late being entered into the system for students who were transferring from one school to another. In those cases, the grades from both schools had to be combined to form a grade for the work done in the semester. In addition, grades were being entered late for some Home and Hospital students, who have long-term medical issues and are taught remotely or at their homes.

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About 60% of the passing grades that were entered late came from 10 schools, and the consultant’s report said only one of those was a high school — notable because the OIG had focused on high schools in its report.

The consultant’s report also comes after the city school system discovered widespread issues at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts in 2019, where teachers were pressured to change grades, students were scheduled into classes that didn’t exist and enrollment was inflated.

The school system removed the principal and other administrators in 2019 and did a full investigation, which was released in 2021. At least 15 students improperly earned passing grades from the West Baltimore school and some students graduated when they didn’t legitimately earn the credits needed.

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