Problems with absenteeism in DC schools ‘deeply troubling’

WASHINGTON — An investigation into graduation requirements and absentee policies at D.C.’s Ballou High School uncovered broader, “deeply troubling” issues in the city’s public school system, a District council member said Wednesday.

“This is proof, yet again, that the problem in DCPS is not limited to one or two high schools,” Councilmember Mary Cheh said in a statement.

“There is systemic pressure to push students through the system.”

The investigation, led by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, found a pattern at Ballou of allowing students to graduate who have an extreme number of absences, contradicting D.C. Public Schools policy, plus inappropriate or excessive use of credit recovery courses that let students make up missed course work.

More than 60 percent of graduating Ballou students had excessive absences, the report found.

But other schools are also receiving criticism.

According to the report, more than 11 percent of graduates from D.C. public high schools missed more than half of their school days last year.

At Wilson High School in Northwest, 34 percent of graduates did not meet attendance requirements, the investigation found.

“We are cheating our students, and that is appalling,” Cheh said. “It will be very difficult for me to trust future claims of growing graduation rates when we have evidence today that DCPS has been cooking the books or not following their own policies.”

Cheh said she would work with the council’s education committee to explore options moving forward.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson said the investigation uncovered failures at many levels, including in the chancellor’s office.

“My commitment to the city is to make sure that the diploma is what it is supposed to be — that is an indication of student readiness, an indication that our students got the education that they deserve,” he said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered the investigation after reports surfaced in November that dozens of Ballou students had graduated without meeting requirements.

The superintendent’s office hired the firm Alvarez & Marsal to conduct the review.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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