DC graduation rates drop slightly for class of 2018 after scandal

WASHINGTON — A year after a graduation scandal rocked D.C. public schools, the school system ended the 2017-2018 school year with graduation rates much higher than it expected at the halfway mark.

Traditional high schools in the District saw a graduation rate of 68.6 percent, which is only down just under 5 percentage points from last year’s number, according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

Overall, when the 72.4 percent graduation rate at public charter schools is factored in, during the past school year, the overall graduation rate in the District stood at 68.5 percent. That number was 73 percent in 2017.

Last year’s number sparked an independent investigation, which found that 1 in 3 students received their diplomas with the help of violations of policies the school system had in place. This included some students with excessive absences using credit recovery courses meant for students who failed classes. 

In the wake of the report, the school system promised more work would be done to ensure polices are being closely followed at all schools.

In February, the first look of what the school year after the scandal would bring, the school system found that only 42 percent of students in traditional high schools were on track to graduate at the halfway point in the year.

Though the end result showed higher rates than expected, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said more needs to be done to make sure more students get to wear a cap and gown.

“These results reinforce what we know. Even though we’ve come a long way, we have more work to do,” Bowser said.

Earlier this year, the school system said individual meetings with students and families on what was needed for students to graduate, offering resources for students falling behind and better communication were playing a role in raising the number of students on track to graduate.

The school system said verifying numbers for the class of 2018 involved the close monitoring of schools to ensure policies on the books were followed. At schools where red flags were raised for the class of 2017 numbers, there was a focus on examining student files stored on those campuses.

Breaking down the numbers, students learning English fared worse than their cohorts, with just over half graduating from traditional high schools. English learners who attended public charter schools graduated in higher numbers, resulting in a 75.8 percent graduation rate.

According to the OSSE numbers, graduation numbers based on race varied significantly, with Asian and white students seeing graduation rates around 90 percent, and with Latino and African-American students seeing graduation rates in the mid-60s overall.

“OSSE will work to support the work of our colleagues at DCPS and charter schools to ensure that every student not only graduates, but leaves ready to take on challenging college-level work and enter career pathways,” said State Superintendent Hanseul Kang.

The school system said its action plan for the current school year included increasing supports for students and staff while also making sure system policies are followed.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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