Attendance, credit violations by graduates at all but 2 DC high schools, report finds

WASHINGTON — More than 1 in 3 students who graduated from D.C. public high schools last year had help from violations of system policy, a study commissioned by the school system found.

The study, released Monday, found that 937 out of 2,758 graduates had excessive absences from school or from credit-recovery course, or they took those courses, which are supposed to be for students who have failed a class, “concurrently or in place of regular instruction.”

They study also found that most D.C. high schools violated credit-recovery program requirements by not enforcing attendance requirements or by creating their own programs that don’t comply with the manual that’s supposed to be followed.

The study was commissioned last December, after reports that many students at Ballou High School had graduated without meeting requirements and that an extraordinarily high number of grades were changed.

“At Ballou, there was a culture of doing ‘whatever it takes’ to pass students so they could receive their diploma,” the report said.

Violations of policy, however, were found at all but two of the 19 D.C. public high schools — Benjamin Banneker and School Without Walls. At Dunbar, 4,000 changes were amde to the attendance records of 118 graduates.

D.C. teachers and other school leaders “are subject to a variety of institutional and administrative pressures which have contributed to a culture in which passing and graduating students is expected, sometimes in contradiction to standards of academic rigor and integrity,” the study, by Alvarez & Marsal, concluded.

Next steps

Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Monday that she was “tremendously disappointed” by the report, adding “we do not take the findings that we heard here today lightly.” Several steps were unveiled Monday, to be rolled out over the next few years.

  • DCPS will review the transcript of each 2018 graduate in order to “verify that every student who walks across the graduation stage will have earned that honor.” The school system will also have support and accountability system, as well as resource fairs to help students and families get access to support for success in school, “including attendance.”
  • The system will also engage others on the topic of grading and credit-recovery practices, including a citywide task force, a student focus group, the teachers’ union and the Council of School Officers.
  • By May of this year, the school system will define milestones that will be expected of high school graduates, and create an ombudsman-like function to follow up on complaints.
  • By next school year, DCPS promised new and improved policies on grading and credit recovery, training for everyone from principals to students on those policies and ongoing audits of grading practices at high schools.
  • By 2022, the schools will set milestones for high school graduates and implement “strong final exams for core courses” that will count toward students’ grades.

Bowser added that “We are here to support DCPS and make sure that all agencies of our government are helping students to achieve.”

She added that parents need to make their kids’ school attendance a priority. High schoolers, she said, “are getting ready to go out into life and the world, and they need to know that their job right now is school. And they need ot be in school each and every day.”

WTOP’s Michelle Basch contributed to this report.          

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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