DCPS, City Reckons with Fallout from Scathing Report

Graduation Scandal

by: Lenore T. Adkins Special to the AFRO
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A damning report has found that a third of the District’s public high school graduates last year missed too many classes or did not properly make up their classes, findings officials fear could cheapen the value of public high school diplomas from D.C.

“We very much are committed to putting out the news, the good the bad, or the ugly,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said during her Jan. 30 Mayor’s Breakfast. “None of us around this table who have been very committed to the transformation of our schools wins with fake numbers. And certainly, our children don’t win with fake numbers.”

Dunbar High School had one of the highest rates of graduating students who did not meet attendance requirements. The others are Anacostia High School, Ballou High School, Eastern High School, Roosevelt High School and H.D. Woodson High School. (Courtesy photo)

The D.C. City Council has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 8 with government witnesses to discuss next steps.  Meanwhile, Chancellor Antwan Wilson has rolled out reforms that include transcript reviews to ensure the class of 2018 has earned the grades required to graduate.

DCPS will work to improve grading and credit recovery policies by next school year while showing the importance of attendance. By May, DCPS will have a plan to regularly audit grading practices in the high schools, implement a new student information system allowing school leaders, teachers and families to monitor student grades, attendance, and information, and have a process in place to regularly train new staff on policies.

Plans are also in place for resource fairs focused on students and families to receive support for school success and attendance. Looking ahead to 2022, DCPS will offer stronger final exams for core courses while offering support for students who fail.

“I’m committed to ensuring that our students here in D.C. get what they deserve and that is the opportunity to know that they are privileged for growing up in D.C. and having attended our schools,” said Wilson, chancellor for 11 months.

The audit, conducted by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and released Jan. 29, discovered policy violations in 937 out of 2,758 graduating students’ records at nearly all schools. In Dunbar High School’s case, more than 4,000 changes were made to attendance records for 118 graduates, the report said. The Washington Post reported that the Dunbar principal has been removed from the school.

Most high schools operated under a mindset of passing and graduating students, according to a DCPS concurrent review of attendance and grading policies. At Ballou High School, DCPS uncovered a culture of doing “whatever it takes” to pass students so they could receive diplomas.

The DCPS review found that six high schools were the worst offenders at graduating students who exceeded the number of absences allowed, and failed to follow DCPS grading and credit recovery policies. Those schools were Anacostia High School, Ballou High School, Dunbar High School, Eastern High School, Roosevelt High School and H.D. Woodson High School.

Ballou Principal Yetunde Reeves was removed from her position and Dunbar Principal Abdullah Zaki was placed on leave in the wake of the allegations.

DCPS Central Office failed to offer sufficient training and support or adequate oversight in grading and credit recovery policies, the DCPS review said.

Despite the sobering news, Bowser remains confident that the district has improved dramatically in the 10 years since the mayor took over the schools. She dodged a question on whether investigators interviewed former chancellor Kaya Henderson and then-interim chancellor John Davis.

Bowser ordered the audit and an internal review of DCPS policies and procedures in December following a  November report from NPR and WAMU that unearthed a graduation scandal at Ballou. The joint investigation found that the high school was graduating students with repeated absences and others who couldn’t read and write. DCPS has since removed Principal Yetunde Reeves from the school.

Councilwoman Mary Cheh took DCPS to task over a school culture she said discourages teachers and principals from coming forward to report malfeasance.

“They don’t want to rock the boat because the culture, it’s almost totalitarian from the central office, they don’t want to stick their neck out,” Cheh said. “They feel, maybe they’re not correct, but they certainly feel that there will be reprisals and that they just have to be quiet.”

Wilson is putting a system in place that allows school staff to lodge complaints directly to him and intimidation from school leaders is not acceptable, he said.

At the upcoming hearing on Feb. 8, David Grosso chairman of the committee on education, wants to understand why some students have attendance issues, an answer that’s eluded officials for years, he said.

“I look forward to the opportunity for us to work together to get to the solutions that we need to get to so that students feel like school is the best option in the morning when they get up,” Grosso said. “And that’s the challenge that we have before us.”

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