D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s

AB­SENCES, LIT­ER­ACY GAPS ARE IS­SUES Coun­cil says it will look into grad­u­a­tion rates

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PERRY STEIN

ad­min­is­tra­tion launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into claims that Bal­lou Se­nior High wrongly let some stu­dents grad­u­ate.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion Wed­nes­day into al­le­ga­tions that some stu­dents who were chron­i­cally ab­sent and oth­ers who could scarcely read and write were al­lowed to grad­u­ate from Bal­lou Se­nior High School in South­east Wash­ing­ton.

The D.C. Coun­cil also an­nounced that fol­low­ing the ac­cu­sa­tions, it plans to hold a hear­ing to in­ves­ti­gate grad­u­a­tion rates in the city.

At a mid­day news con­fer­ence, Bowser and D.C. Pub­lic Schools Chan­cel­lor Ant­wan Wil­son said they are tak­ing the al­le­ga­tions se­ri­ously but stood by Bal­lou — a his­tor­i­cally low-per­form­ing high school that has been touted for its seem­ingly rapid im­prove­ments in re­cent years — and its prin­ci­pal.

“We think th­ese are ex­tremely im­por­tant and con­cern­ing al­le­ga­tions,” Wil­son said. “At this point, to be hon­est with you, I don’t know what mis­takes were made at Bal­lou.”

The al­le­ga­tions sur­faced in an ar­ti­cle pub­lished Tues­day by WAMU and NPR that said that the school gave diplo­mas to se­niors who did not meet grad­u­a­tion re­quire­ments and that ad­min­is­tra­tors pres­sured teach­ers to pass stu­dents.

The ar­ti­cle por­trayed an en­vi­ron­ment of dys­func­tion at the high school, re­port­ing that stu­dents were ir­re­spon­si­bly pushed to­ward grad­u­a­tion, which left them un­pre­pared for col­lege and the work­force.

Bowser and Wil­son did not pro­vide specifics of what the re­view will en­tail, but they in­di­cated it would look at city­wide grad­u­a­tion poli­cies and whether teach­ers and lead­ers at Bal­lou ad­hered to grad­u­a­tion stan­dards.

Bowser said there will be two in­ves­ti­ga­tions — one led by the Of­fice of the State Su­per­in­ten­dent of Ed­u­ca­tion that will be com­pleted within 45 days and the sec­ond spear­headed by two deputy chan­cel­lors, who will be­gin re­view­ing all D.C. schools start­ing im­me­di­ately.

Wil­son said he wants to de­ter­mine how per­va­sive th­ese is­sues are at Bal­lou.

Ac­cord­ing to Bowser, the city­wide in­ves­ti­ga­tion will look into ad­her­ence to at­ten­dance and grad­u­a­tion poli­cies through­out the Dis­trict.

The re­view will ex­plore whether the Dis­trict should “make [the poli­cies] clearer for all par­ties in­volved — teach­ers, prin­ci­pals and par­ents — and more trans­par­ent.”

The WAMU ac­count marked a sharp de­par­ture from the lauda­tory head­lines Bal­lou re­ceived ear­lier this year, when each of its 190 se­nior stu­dents, who are over­whelm­ingly black and from low­in­come back­grounds, ap­plied to col­lege and were ac­cepted.

Bowser and Wil­son did not chal­lenge the con­clu­sions of the WAMU ar­ti­cle, al­though they said there are other in­di­ca­tors — in­clud­ing im­proved stan­dard­ized test scores — sug­gest­ing that the school is suc­cess­ful.

Wil­son said he had been im-

pressed with Bal­lou’s prin­ci­pal, Ye­tunde Reeves, and her work dur­ing school vis­its and that he in­tends to keep her in her post.

The school posted a grad­u­a­tion rate of 64 per­cent in 2017, up from 50 per­cent in 2012. The school also showed steady im­prove­ment on its Part­ner­ship for As­sess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Ca­reers (PARCC) scores, a stan­dard­ized test.

Test scores from 2016 showed that 8 per­cent of stu­dents met or ap­proached meet­ing stan­dards in math and that 9 per­cent met or ap­proached stan­dards in English.

In 2017, those num­bers in­creased to 10 per­cent in math and 22 per­cent in English.

Still, those re­sults fell well be­low the av­er­age scores for the Dis­trict, with 51 per­cent of stu­dents meet­ing or ap­proach­ing meet­ing stan­dards in math and 53 per­cent in English.

“I per­son­ally be­lieve Prin­ci­pal Reeves should be re­newed based on my vis­its with the school,” Wil­son said. He added that he has no “ev­i­dence that it’s true” that stu­dents grad­u­ated un­able to read or write.

Low-per­form­ing schools, such as Ana­cos­tia and H.D. Wood­son high schools, recorded im­pres­sive grad­u­a­tion gains in 2017. Ana­cos­tia had a 17 per­cent in­crease in its grad­u­a­tion rate be­tween 2016 and 2017.

“We will thor­oughly re­view our poli­cies re­lated to at­ten­dance, grad­u­a­tion and credit re­cov­ery,” Bowser said.

“I have di­rected our Of­fice of the State Su­per­in­ten­dent of Ed­u­ca­tion, which is our state ed­u­ca­tion agency, to re­view those poli­cies and com­pli­ance with those poli­cies and turn around a re­port to us in the next 45 days.”

Coun­cil mem­ber David Grosso (I-At Large), who chairs the D.C. Coun­cil’s ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee, said the panel will hold a pub­lic over­sight hear­ing Dec. 15.

“I am deeply dis­ap­pointed to hear re­ports al­leg­ing that stu­dents at Bal­lou High School were not el­i­gi­ble for grad­u­a­tion but still re­ceived a diploma,” Grosso said in a state­ment.

“If stu­dents are able to grad­u­ate school in light of chronic ab­sen­teeism and with­out pro­duc­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate work prod­uct, then we are not ful­fill­ing our mis­sion to put them in the best po­si­tion to suc­ceed in life.”

The WAMU-NPR re­port found that a ma­jor­ity of Bal­lou’s 2017 grad­u­at­ing class missed more than six weeks of school. D.C. school pol­icy dic­tates that stu­dents will fail a class if they are ab­sent 30 times.

Ed­u­ca­tors in­ter­viewed by WAMU said that teach­ers were pres­sured to pass stu­dents and that stu­dents were aware that ex­pec­ta­tions weren’t high for re­ceiv­ing a diploma.

The school sys­tem does not ex­pect to re­scind any diplo­mas, re­gard­less of the out­come of the re­view, Wil­son said.

The chan­cel­lor en­cour­aged stu­dents and teach­ers who are con­cerned about the al­le­ga­tions to reach out to the school sys­tem. He also said no teacher should feel pres­sured to pass stu­dents and they should speak up if they do.

“The grade that they give stu­dents, I do not ex­pect it to be any­thing other than what they earn,” Wil­son said.

“That’s ex­tremely im­por­tant.”

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