Report: Teachers pressured to pass students regardless of absences at Ballou HS

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A report released by the State Superintendent for Education in the district found that teachers were pressured to find ways to pass students regardless of absences at Ballou High School during the 2016-2017 school year.

The findings were released on Tuesday following a WAMU/NPR report in December about the 100% graduation rate for the school year and questions as to whether all students were eligible to graduate.

The WAMU/NPR report said that the school’s graduation rate went from 57% to 100% between the 2016 and 2017 graduating classes, but of the 164 students who graduated in 2017, many had a high number of unexcused absences.

The report said documents reviewed revealed “half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused.”

“I don’t know what mistakes were made at Ballou, but I can tell you that the review that we will undertake will determine what exactly happened,” said Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser back in December.

Superintendent Hanseul Kang read over the findings of an interim report on Ballou HIgh School conducted by an outside firm.

“The report found that there was pressure for passing grades, that administrators communicated passing percentage expectations to teachers at high levels and encouraged teachers to find ways to pass students regardless of absence,” she said. “Teachers also reported concerns of the impact of these pressures on their performance evaluations.”

Kang said they found policy violations in the 113 of the 177 graduating students records from Ballou High School.

There were also issues found with credit recovery courses, including 83 of 177 graduates participating in some form of credit recovery, students receiving the credit despite excessive absences, and many students enrolled in the courses in contradiction to DCPS policy.

According to the DCPS website, students can only earn up to three more credits during the after school credit recovery sessions, to allow students who have failed one or more courses to continue on a path toward graduation within four years.

“Credit recovery policies were also found to be vague and undefined with little oversight, coordination, or training,” said Kang. “We also heard about significant gaps and training and support for teachers in using the grading system and policy.”

“As a district we failed to provide sufficient accountability to ensure our policies were implemented appropriately, and like many of you, I am disappointed in these findings,” said Chancellor of DCPS, Antwan Wilson. “I can assure you that DCPS has the courage to fix the issues and improve.”

Kang also discussed a city-wide analysis that was done, but the full investigation which looks into attendance policies across D.C. Public Schools is expected to be complete by the end of January.

“It does appear students that have high levels of absenteeism are graduating at higher rates than they have in the past,” she says.

Back in December, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson announced that he reassigned Ballou High School principal Dr. Yetunde Reeves to “another function in the district.”

On Tuesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she is on paid administrative leave pending their HR process.