Md. audit questions 127 diplomas city gave to special-ed students

24 high schools included

officials contest results

February 05, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

An audit released by the State Department of Education this week calls into question more than 120 diplomas awarded to special-education students by city high schools last summer.

State officials say that findings involving student records at 24 high schools indicate that the problems seen at Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy - where 93 students were allowed to graduate in June without meeting requirements - might not have been isolated.

City school officials vigorously contested the audit's conclusions yesterday. They say they reviewed academic files for every high school student in the months after the discovery of problems at Walbrook, and resolved any discrepancies found.

But Jeffery N. Grotsky, the system's chief of staff, said recordkeeping in schools was subject to "human error" and needed improvement. He acknowledged, for example, that student files reviewed in the audit did not contain proof that students took certain required state assessments.

The audit is the second such review conducted by state special-education officials in two years. It examined the academic files of more than 1,000 disabled students, including 295 who were listed by the system as having earned a regular high school diploma in June.

The audit found that 127 of those graduates' files were incomplete, with course credits or Maryland Functional Test scores missing.

Auditors also found no indication in the files that the graduates had taken High School Assessments, which are administered every year and will become a graduation requirement starting with the Class of 2009.

State officials said they did not know whether the graduates hadn't completed the requirements or the system hadn't kept accurate records.

"It's impossible to tell," said Carol Ann Baglin, assistant state superintendent for special education.

Baglin said the State Department of Education was concerned that the kinds of discrepancies found in the disabled students' "cumulative folders," a type of file kept for all students, also might exist in general education students' records.

"This goes well beyond special education," Baglin said. "It's a general education issue, and it's indicative that there are still problems systemwide."

The system's graduation records were first audited by the state in 2003. As a result of that audit, the school system launched an investigation that led to the discovery of the problems with Walbrook High's Class of 2004.

State officials said they are frustrated that the problems found in 2003 were repeated in 2004.

City school officials said they were confident about the accuracy of current student records because of the intensive review they undertook last fall after the problems at Walbrook.

"The high school office put together teams that went through every cumulative folder at every high school," Grotsky said. "The outcome was [that] the diplomas were verified. We may have had some minor issues at one or two schools [other than Walbrook], but everything has been cleaned up."

He urged students and parents not to doubt the validity of the diplomas given out by Baltimore schools. "We're doing everything in our power to have accurate information so that our students are confident in the records that they have, and [that their] diploma ... is of value," he said.

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