Muriel Bowser

‘We Are Cheating Our Students': Ballou High Graduated Students With Poor Attendance, Grades, Report Says

Students who had low grades, had excessive absences, failed to complete their required community service and even those who couldn't read were allowed to graduate from Ballou High School this spring, a published report says.

Ballou, a Southeast D.C. school with a chronically low graduation rate, drew national attention this June after every senior graduated and was accepted to college.

But an investigation by WAMU and NPR shows 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 says. 

Only 9 percent of students last year passed the English section of the D.C. standardized test known as PARCC, and no one passed the math section, the report said. 

Teachers and administrators received bonuses linked to students' performance. Last school year, 15 teachers at Ballou received bonuses of $20,000 to $25,000, a school district spokeswoman said. Additionally, six administrators received bonuses of as much as $2,000, sources said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she was "very concerned" and ordered city education officials to review graduation policies. 

"We will thoroughly review all policies related to attendance, graduation and credit recovery," she said said.

The mayor ordered the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to review all policies and report back in 45 days.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson also said he was disturbed by the report, and called for a full investigation.

"We are cheating our students," he said in a statement.

"We must ensure that the situation alleged to have happened at Ballou never happens again -- and that this is an isolated situation, which it may not be," he continued. 

School board member Markus Batchelor, who represents Ward 8, said a citywide review of the grading and graduation system should be conducted by an independent group, not the mayor's office or the schools chancellor's office.

"There's a sheer lack of accountability under a mayoral control system that just doesn't give the public the opportunity to hold the system accountable," he told News4.

The D.C. Council's education committee is set to hold a public hearing on D.C. graduation rates on Dec. 15 at 10 a.m. in the John A. Wilson Building.

Ballou parent Laura Askew said she believes students with low grades should not "just be passed on" and graduated.

"It's not fair for our kids," she said.

The report on Ballou comes after an investigation into Prince George's County schools found that school staff changed grades after quarterly cut-off dates. Whistleblowers told News4 and investigators that administrators changed student records in order to boost graduation rates.

Go here to read and listen to the WAMU/NPR report.

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