Third of DCPS High School Graduates Shouldn't Have Graduated Last Year: Review

86% of diplomas at one school weren't deserved; 4,000 absences changed to present at another school

An investigation found a third of D.C. Public Schools high school graduates last year shouldn’t have graduated.

The review by the Office of the State Superintendent for Education stemmed from an investigation into graduation rates at Ballou High School.

The OSSE found credit recovery was misused at many schools, attendance policies were rarely enforced, schools received a lack of help from the DCPS central office when asking about certain policies and there is a culture of pressure on teachers to graduate students.

In all, 937 students — 34 percent — graduated with some sort of violation last year.

“We do not take the findings that we heard here today lightly,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said. “In fact we’re all tremendously disappointed by it.”

Only Banneker High School and School Without Walls didn’t allow students to graduate who shouldn’t have.

At Dunbar High School, the review found 4,000 instances of administrators changing students attendance records to being present after a teacher marked them absent. The principal has been placed on administrative leave, the fourth public schools official removed from a position since the Ballou report.

At Luke C. Moore High School, 86 percent of diplomas handed out in 2017 shouldn't have been, the OSSE review found.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Bowser vowed to fix the issues.

“This is indeed tough news to deliver but very necessary in order that we right the ship, make sure our community has all the information that we have and implement the changes necessary,” she said.

The plan includes more training for teachers, independent audits of every student’s transcript before graduation, ongoing audits of grading practices, improved automated systems and increased final exams for core classes.

The results of the OSSE audit were forward to the D.C. Office of the Inspector General for its review. 

Ballou, a Southeast school with a chronically low graduation rate, drew national attention in June after every senior graduated and was accepted to college. But an investigation by WAMU and NPR showed only 57 of the 164 who received diplomas were on track to graduate. Half of the 2017 graduates were counted as absent for more than three months of the school year but were allowed to graduate anyway, the report said.

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