Over 12,000 grades changed from failing to passing in Baltimore high schools according to fraud investigation

A “culture of fear and a veil of secrecy” kept Baltimore school officials from “speaking freely about misconduct,” including how over 12,000 grades were changed from failing to…

A “culture of fear and a veil of secrecy” kept Baltimore school officials from “speaking freely about misconduct,” including how over 12,000 grades were changed from failing to passing.  

This is one of many findings in a June 8 report from Maryland Inspector General for Education Richard Henry. The report found mass grade changes from Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) from 2016-2020.  

The report follows five investigations launched in the school district in 2019 “where 15 percent or more of the past year’s graduating class had grade changes related to meeting graduation requirements.” 

The allegations of grade changing go back at least to 2017, when Sinclair Broadcast Group’s “Project Baltimore” reported grade inflation in the district. 

BCPS dismissed the allegations in a 2019 statement, saying the accusations “clearly” don’t indicate “widespread, systemic abuse or improper activity” despite five substantiated cases of grade inflation made against the district. 

Henry’s office initiated its investigation in September 2020. Due to BCPS’s policies protecting student data in grades 2-8, the investigation only included high schools. 

Report findings

Over the years 2016-2020, the investigation found 12,542 grades had changed from failing to passing, contrary to the district policy on failing grades, which states:  

“If a student receives an F as a marking period grade, the numerical equivalent of that grade cannot be lower than a 50 when used to calculate the student’s final grade. If a student failed a marking period by earning a 50-59 that score should remain unchanged when calculating the student’s final grade. This requirement is meant to allow students to improve their grade through diligent work in subsequent marking periods to pass the course.” 

The investigation gathered a large amount of electronic data in addition to interviewing former and present teachers and administrators across several BCPS schools. 

Many school officials justified their behavior, citing the “rounding rule,” which allows for grades to be rounded up to the nearest whole number. For example, a 59.5 could be rounded up to a 60.  But emails included in the report reveal administrators were actually told to change grades from a 58 or 59 to 60, contrary to the rule. 

Patterson High School was one of the school district’s worst offenders, responsible for 11.1% of grades changed from failing to passing. 

At Patterson, 1,390 grades were changed from failing to passing over the four year period. Most of those were changed to a 60, the bare minimum for passing, but in more than 250 examples, grades were changed from failing to above the minimum passing grade. 

At Patterson, guidance counselors did most of the inflating. At other BCPS schools, assistant principals were the most frequent offenders. 

Report aftermath

While Henry didn’t find BCPS guilty of a criminal violation, he recommended an independent performance audit related to the misconduct. 

The school district still defended itself, saying in a statement the report is largely based on data before it changed its grading policies in 2019, adding that the report did not indicate widespread pressure from administrators to change grades. 

However, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan did not mince words in his response to the report, saying there had been a “clear moral failing” by BCPS school administrators.  

“Too many Baltimore City children have been denied the education they deserve and robbed of opportunities to thrive and succeed,” Hogan said. “This scandal has broken the bonds of trust between city officials and parents, students and taxpayers.” 

The governor further directed the Maryland State Prosecutor and asked the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland to investigate the report and “bring federal criminal charges against those who perpetrated this fraud and abuse.”