Hogan ‘outraged’ over results, response to Pr. George’s Co. graduation audit

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks to reporters in Annapolis on Thursday Nov. 9, 2017. Hogan called the results of an audit into Prince George’s County graduation rates “disturbing.”

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called it “very disturbing” that one in four Prince George’s County students may not have met graduation requirements.

“I was frankly not only outraged at the report findings, but I was somewhat outraged that the response again by Prince George’s County, who still doesn’t seem to want to take it seriously,” Hogan told reporters.

Hogan addressed the results of an independent audit that found that 25 percent of graduating seniors in the county may have had a grade changed, or may not have met certain other state requirements but graduated anyway.

The State Board of Education sought out an independent auditor to investigate claims from 20 high schools of interference in student transcripts, in some cases after the students had graduated.

“Their response was, ‘Well maybe 5,500 people may have had errors with their grades, but we think it’s just clerical errors and crossing t’s and dotting i’s.’ I think it’s much more serious and they better take it more seriously,” Hogan said.

Hogan is running for re-election against Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.

Via WTOP

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says he’s outraged by Prince George’s Co. Schools audit findings

Larry Hogan

FILE – In this Oct. 20, 2014 file photo, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan answers questions during an interview with The Associated Press in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Saturday that he’s outraged by results of an audit showing students are graduating in Prince George’s County Schools without meeting state requirements.

“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.

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. 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.”

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.”

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.”

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, gradsupport@pgcps.org.

via Fox 5DC

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PGCPS board chair seeks whistleblower info from board members in grade-fixing audit

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Board Chairman Segun Eubanks PHD is a brother in law to County Executive Baker III

– Prince George’s County Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell dodged questions from FOX 5 at an event.

The audit found that students are graduating without meeting state requirements — some who had more than 50 unexcused absences. The audit also found that in the last two years, grade changes from failing to passing are common, even after deadlines. The report found no evidence of system-wide intimidation or fraud.

“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 staffers to have these grades changed or have anything like that, not only would Dr. Maxwell go, but his key staffers would go,” Baker said. “The report did not find that.”

It was several Prince George’s County school board members who asked the state for the audit, saying they had evidence of systemic fraud to boost the graduation rate. Board member Edward Burroughs said Monday he still stands by the claims.

“To believe that this could be taking place at so many schools and no one knew anything about it is laughable,” Burroughs said. “It’s actually disrespectful to the teachers and guidance counselors that have had to endure this nightmare.”

A letter to board members who asked for audit
Burroughs and board member David Murray say they continue to get information from whistleblowers within the school system, and told reporters Friday they had new details to bring to light.

Soon after, both received a letter from the board chair and vice chair stating that per board policy, they must turn over whistleblower information pertinent to the audit.

“The Board is committed to providing the full extent of protection to each whistleblower as provided for under state and local laws and will fully investigate any and all complaints,” the letter reads. “If you fail to disclose any of this information by noon on Monday, November 6, 2017, we will refer a recommendation for action to the full board.”

Burroughs and Murray turned over no information Monday.

“Under no circumstance, no matter what, will we betray our whistleblowers,” Burroughs said.

Both Burroughs and Murray reiterated their intention to protect the whistleblowers’ trust in an appearance on FOX 5 News Morning on Tuesday.

“There’s a reason they didn’t feel confident and comfortable with coming forward internally. They feared retaliation, and I think the board chair is essentially trying to shoot the messengers, and he’s trying to retaliate against us for exposing their wrongdoings,” Burroughs said.

Murray said their focus is on getting the best education for the county’s students.

“If we don’t speak out about it, no one else is going to, so it’s about our students at the end of the day,” Murray said.

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Board members David Murray (right) and Edward Burroughs III (left)

“I honestly believe that Dr. Maxwell knows the truth,” Burroughs said. “He’s just repeating a talking point at this point. He keeps calling it poor recordkeeping. Graduating students that don’t meet the requirement for graduation isn’t poor record keeping. Allowing students to graduate when they’ve missed over 50 of days of school is not poor recordkeeping. Forcing teachers to change grades is not poor recordkeeping. Tampering with documents days before the investigators came to the school is not poor recordkeeping. And so Dr. Maxwell knows what the truth is. We all do. I just think that he’s trying to hold on.”

Board chair: Letter was not in retaliation
Board chair Segun Eubanks said he was not seeking retaliation in writing the letter.

“When you are a member of this board, there are certain obligations you have, by policy and law, and we just want him to fulfill those obligations,” Eubanks said.

Eubanks said there was no action planned against Burroughs and Murray.

The back and forth is nothing new. Eubanks and the majority of the board were initially against the audit Burroughs and Murray requested, and stated they were confident nothing would be found. Eubanks continues to say that the investigation should have been handled internally, not by the state.

“I know you’ve been critical of the process and critical of the board members, but they prompted all of this to be exposed. Isn’t that moving in the right direction?” FOX 5 asked Eubanks.

“So yes,” he replied. “You can prompt things and see results that matter by doing it divisively or you can prompt things and move things in the right direction by doing it collaboratively and doing it the right way. And I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive.”

He went on to say, “Now we know, and we are sobered by the results and we are going to take them very seriously.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued this statement on Eubanks letter to Burroughs and Murray:

“The obvious implications to this letter are very concerning and the administration will continue to call for these whistleblowers to receive the full protection they deserve under the law.”

Gov. Hogan told FOX 5 on Saturday that he was outraged by the audit’s findings.

Via Fox 5 DCStill1106_00017_1510029122247_4478994_ver1.0_640_360

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Probe finds late grade changes for 5,500 Students in Prince George’s

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Kevin Maxwell, chief executive of Prince George’s County Public Schools, and Board Chairman Dr. Eubanks who is brother in law to  Rushern L. Baker III, county executive, speak about allegations of fraud in graduation rates. 

Grades for nearly 5,500 students in a Maryland school system were changed days before graduation during the past two years, according to results from an investigation sparked by concerns that educators were fraudulently boosting graduation rates.

Findings from the review of Prince George’s County public schools, which were released Friday, also found rampant lapses in documentation and nearly 60 instances of students being ineligible to graduate.

The 211-page report pointed to problems in grading and student absenteeism, but did not find that tampering was ordered by the district’s leadership, which includes chief executive Kevin Maxwell. Nor was there evidence of systemwide intimidation, according to the independent investigators, who were hired after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered a review.

The report said 107 people filed complaints during a seven-week investigation — which ended Tuesday — and that nearly half of those related to improper grade changes and ineligible graduates.

As investigators visited the 28 high schools in the Prince George’s school system, they conducted an examination of randomly selected records for 1,212 students with late grade changes.

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Prince George’s County Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell reacts to the audit, with School Board members behind him. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

The results were troubling: The investigators found about 30 percent of the students whose records were reviewed either lacked documentation that justified graduation or were clearly ineligible.

The report’s authors said the percentage could not be assumed to hold true for the larger population of 15,215 graduates in 2016 and 2017 because the records were selected from the nearly 5,500 students with late grade changes.

State officials said Friday they are “deeply concerned” by the report’s findings and have asked the school system for a plan to improve its processes and governance within two months. The plan is to be reviewed in January by the state board of education, which could take action.

“Based on an initial review of the investigative report, Governor Hogan is extremely troubled by its findings,” said Shareese Churchill, spokeswoman for Hogan. “It clearly indicates that the Prince George’s County school system is failing to properly educate far too many students, and is actively betraying the community’s trust — willfully compromising students’ opportunity for future success.”

Four-year graduation rates in Prince George’s have risen in recent years, jumping from 74.1 percent in 2013 to 81.4 percent in 2016 — lower than the state average of 87.6 percent but the largest gain for that period of any school system in Maryland.

Prince George’s officials responded to the report Friday by underscoring that the findings do not support allegations of a “systemic direction” to change grades, as was alleged.

Maxwell and Segun Eubanks, the school board’s chairman, appeared on the defensive as they met with reporters, saying the impetus behind the audit was political and that the problems would have come to light had the school system been allowed to conduct its own review internally.

 “It becomes political when it goes to the governor of the state of Maryland” and not through “normal processes,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell vowed the school system would take “appropriate disciplinary action” as needed and problems would be “corrected with a sense of urgency.”

Still, he said, “because a grade was changed, it doesn’t mean it was wrong or illegal. There’s a lot of reasons why that may happen.”

He and Eubanks said the district would work to improve teacher training, increase communication with teachers and implement technology to automatically calculate grades.

The report suggested a wide failure of accountability, citing irregularities in grade changes and tracking the community service hours required for graduation.

Nearly 38 percent of graduates had more than 10 days of unlawful absences in 2015-16 — a number that grew to 44 percent in 2016-17, according to the report.

In 2017, 159 students graduated despite more than 50 days of unexcused absences.

Under district procedures, high school students are supposed to get Es in full-year courses for which they have 10 days or more of unlawful absence, the report said.

Claims of improper conduct in Prince George’s schools were first made by a four-member minority bloc of the county school board in a May letter to Hogan.

The four said whistleblowers had come forward with evidence that grades were changed and that students were credited for courses they had not taken, as part of “widespread systemic corruption” in the 132,000-student district. They alleged that hundreds of students had graduated without meeting state requirements.

Maxwell denounced the allegations at the time, calling them baseless, politically motivated and an effort to undermine recent gains. But state lawmakers in Prince George’s urged an in-depth audit, and Hogan asked the Maryland State Board of Education for a “complete, thorough and exhaustive” investigation.

By the time the state board voted to bring in an outside investigator in June, Maxwell and other officials supported the idea, saying it would bring closure.

The state in late August hired a D.C. firm — Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services — to conduct the investigation, and on Sept. 18 announced a hotline number and email address for reporting potential tampering or misconduct. The report was due Tuesday.

Throughout the scandal, Maxwell has reiterated that there were no orders from the top to do anything improper, but he has shifted his message about potential problems.

On Friday, he voiced concern about “the serious errors found at many high schools.”

School board members Edward Burroughs III and David Murray, part of the minority bloc that asked the state to investigate, said they went outside the system because they didn’t feel confident the board would take action.

“The report found exactly what we said in our letter–that hundreds of students are graduating that do not meet the requirements,” Murray said. “We said it was happening across the system and the report found that to be absolutely true. It was even more than we imagined.”

The allegations have increased political tensions in Prince George’s, where County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) selected Maxwell as schools chief and stood by him. In recent months, Baker has announced his candidacy for his party’s nomination to run against Hogan in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

Maxwell has pointed to the progress in graduation rates as a signature accomplishment.

Earlier this year, he and other top administrators did a bus tour of the eight county high schools with a graduation rate of 90 percent or better. Students and staff cheered their success, with banners celebrating them as part of the “90 Percent Club.”

via Washington Post  >>>Read More Fox 5 DC, >>> Read more WTOP

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Whistleblower Alleges PGCPS Changed Student Records After Grade-Tampering Investigation Began

Prince+Georges+County+Public+Schools+Sasscer+Administration+Building.jpgA whistleblower who works for a Prince George’s County, Maryland, high school told state investigators student records were changed after a grade-tampering investigation began.

The Maryland State Board of Education has independent auditors looking into allegations of grade tampering in order to boost the Prince George’s County school system’s graduation rates.

According to the whistleblower’s allegations, after auditors visited their first high school, word spread and the following high schools fixed records.

In an email obtained by News4, the whistleblower wrote to state investigators, saying, “Several of the high school’s graduates did not meet core requirements, so once the high school heard what investigators were looking for, an assistant principal, registrar, guidance chair and 3 guidance counselors changed student records.”

The whistleblower wrote that another high school “called over to our school and told us that you were looking for the last two years’ worth of tallies for the seniors.”

“Most schools had not done them, so schools were calling around to other schools to get them done before you all came.”

Tallies are records kept of classes students have taken to ensure they qualified for graduation. The whistleblower also wrote, “There were numerous tallies that were not completed and are still not completed. Some of the tallies that we worked on were properly dated and some were not dated at all.”

“The entire guidance office was shut down the entire day because we needed to get our files in order before you came to the school.”

Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesperson John White said the system has not been made aware of any of those allegations.

“When allegations are made through the media or other means without providing information to the system, we can’t correct it,” he said.

White would have liked for the whistleblower to have reported the allegations to the school system’s anonymous hotline.

“The more voices we have, the more certain it is that it will be an honest and transparent process,” he said.

The independent auditors’ findings are expected to be turned over Tuesday.

Read more >>> NBC 4 and fox 5 DC

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Snapchat posts of weapons, threats prompt increased security at PGCPS High School – Police later cleared.

 – There is an increased security presence at a Prince George’s County high school Monday after several pictures circulated on social media threatening violence at the campus.

Students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School received Snapchat pictures of an assault rifle with a magazine next to it on Sunday. Another picture appeared to show part of a pipe bomb with the caption “Don’t Go To School On Monday.”

A concerned parent contacted FOX 5 when her son saw the posts at a friend’s house Sunday morning. FOX 5 alerted police with our questions about whether they were aware of the possible threat.

“I’d rather for somebody to come back and tell me this is a joke than I get a text that says Eleanor Roosevelt High School is currently on lockdown for an active shooter,” said Tonnika Jackson, who shared the posts with FOX 5. She says she plans to keep her son home from school Monday.

In a statement, the school’s principal Reginald McNeill said:

“Earlier this evening, Eleanor Roosevelt High School administrators, Prince George’s County Public Schools Department of Security Services and Prince George’s County Police Department were informed about a social media threat directing students to not attend school tomorrow. The post itself was not specific to Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Law enforcement officials are working to identify the person or persons responsible. As a precaution, there will be an additional police presence at the school Monday, October 23. Please contact me at 301-513-5400 on Monday if you have any questions or concerns.”

A spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools said the district’s security officials were involved in the investigation with police and that there was extra police on campus Monday.

The photo that was passed around through social media Sunday evening with the words “Don’t go to school Monday” launched a police investigation and increased law enforcement around the school in Greenbelt, Prince George’s County police said.

After consulting with the state’s attorney’s office, police declined to press charges.

The investigation shows that the student sent the post directly to an acquaintance, who then shared the post with others, said Christina Cotterman, a police spokeswoman. There did not appear to be criminal intent behind the post, authorities said.

Police warned people to be cautious about what social media posts they share.

 “Although this threat wasn’t credible, this department takes all such threats seriously and works aggressively to identify the sender,” Deputy Chief Raphael Grant said in a statement. “We urge all citizens, both young and old, to please think before sending such posts.”

Via Fox5 DC

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