Anybody interested in reading the official OSSE/Alvarez & Marsal report on grade inflation and phony graduations in many DC high schools, both public and charter, can** read it here.**

You might be wondering, how did the Ballou administration get teachers to give passing grades to students who were not present and did no work?

Simple:

Any teacher who had a student failing their class for any reason had to fill out numerous, complicated, and time-consuming documents showing that the teacher had given the student all sorts of interventions to save them from failing. This might sound like a good idea, but think about it: A high school teacher typically has 100 students or more; if half or more of them are chronically absent (and hence failing), the teacher (not the student) who intended to give all those students the F grades they deserved would have to actually perform hundreds of hours of labor filling out documents showing how they were going to perform a miracle: get the student to come to class and study. The student would never actually be required to show any real evidence of actually learning anything. The teacher would be punished, instead. So, many teachers simply caved in.

From page 19 of Interim Report:

“Teachers at Ballou described direct and indirect pressures from school-level leadership, particularly the Principal and Assistant Principals to pass, advance, and graduate students regardless of content mastery. Administrators required teachers to demonstrate and document the completion of many interventions for any student receiving a failing grade, often despite the teacher’s communication that students were excessively absent and performing little to no school work. The Administrative burden to fail students in accordance with grading policy is extremely high and generates a significant amount of extra work for teachers who wish to adhere to the DCPS grading policy. In many cases teachers were left with the choice of developing additional documentation of supports and missing strictly enforced grading deadlines, possibly incurring negative personnel/review repercussions, or simply passing students. The Ballou Administration required this process for students who were failing due to excessive unexcused absence, despite the DCMR requirements that students with greater than 30 unexcused absences shall receive a failing mark for the year.

So how bad was it, and was the Friday DC City Paper correct?

Very bad, and yes, the DC City Paper interpreted the graphs in the report correctly, but a number of people misinterpreted things. I will try to rectify this.

Here are two graphs from the Alvarez & Marsal/OSSE report, for Anacostia HS (which did not make the news the way Ballou did, but had similar attendance issues). I think I see what the DC CP did wrong.

The legend is a bit small, but the gist is this: only students with the light aqua blue color have satisfactory attendance, which is seen as missing less than about 9 days of school (5% of the school year). All the other colors indicate that the student was absent a LOT more than that. For example, the bright red bars indicate students who have missed over HALF the school year — over 90 days!!!

Note that the two bars on the left represent school year 2014-15, the middle bars are for 2015-16, and the right two bars are for the school year that ended in June of 2017. In each case, the left hand bar is for the students who graduated, and the right-hand bar is for students who did **not** graduate. I notice that roughly 24% of the non-graduates in 2014-2015 had satisfactory attendance, as opposed to perhaps 2% of the graduates. Why that is the case, I have no idea, and I wonder if the two bars got switched.

I think this graphic really should have been in the form of a circle graph with proportionally-sized circles, so we could see easily that there were almost as many non-graduating seniors back in 2014-5 but many fewer non-graduating seniors last year.

The next graph is the one that I think confused the writers at DC CP:

What this graph does NOT say is that 91.1% of the seniors at Anacostia in 2017 missed 30 to 50 percent of their classes AND that another 40% of them missed half or more of their classes — that is logically impossible.

It’s saying something different:

Of the Anacostia students with profound chronic absences in 2017, 91% of them still managed to graduate, in violation of DC Municipal Regulations.

Plus, of those who missed over half of the school year (‘extreme chronic absence’), 40% of them still managed to graduate.

And, as you can see, the problem indeed did worsen over time.

Now, let’s look at Ballou:

If I am reading those numbers correctly, about 97% of Ballou’s graduating seniors last year missed 18 or more days of school, and **about two-thirds of them missed over fifty days of school**!! What’s more, it looks like 23% (47 students out of 159 + 47) didn’t graduate at all, which contradicts the propaganda that all of the seniors there both graduated and were accepted into college.

And here is the confusing graph:

What this says, first of all, the Ballou administration allowed the truancy situation to get worse over the last three years. For instance, in 2017, of the 50 students with Profound Chronic Absences, about 88% of them still graduated – that’s the ones who missed between 54 days and 90 days of school. And of the ones who had Extreme Chronic Absence (i.e. missed more than half of the school year), about 63% of them still graduated. Amazing.

Here is Wilson, and then we’ll look at a charter school that (like many of the non-selective neighborhood DC public schools) serves a challenging population.

The graph indicates that at Wilson, which is by far the largest high school in DC, public or charter, it is again possible to graduate while having missed literally months of school, and the situation is getting worse over time, which is shown most clearly by the graphic below, which rise as you go from left to right. According to this graph, last year, of the 49 students with Profound Chronic Absence (missing between 30% and 50% of the school year), 96.1% of them still managed to graduate. And of the 17 students who missed more than half the school year, a full 81% of them still managed to be awarded a high school diploma.

Now let’s look at Maya Angelou Charter HS, which clearly has major attendance issues as well. The second graph reads ‘DS’ because there were fewer than 10 students; it should **not** be read as meaning that there weren’t any students who graduated despite excessive absences.

In fact, by my calculations (and since I’m not bound by OSSE’s data rules), in 2017, two-thirds (67%) of the thirty students in the Profound Chronic Absence category received a diploma. In 2016, the corresponding figure is 33%, and 17% of the students in the Extreme Chronic Absence category received a diploma. In 2015, 63% of the Maya Angelou 12th grade students in the “Profound” category received diplomas, and 11% of the students in the “Extreme” category that year did, as well.

One could remake the graph in this manner:

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Note: after looking at the DC City Paper graphs and the ones in the report, I realized that the DC CP graphs were correct.

You continue to do brilliant and important work. Congratulations…and thank you!

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Reblogged this on The Merrow Report and commented:

Please read this carefully

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Systemic failure. Letter grades are lies, our system of failure is broken, tests are the worst ways to assess students, thinking is not allowed and on and on “We Are still trying to develop both the philosophy as well as a system of education which really does respects the intelligence and abilities of ordinary people”. James Anderson

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[…] The OSSE/A&M report makes it clear that at the non-selective regular public high schools like Anacostia, Ballou, Cardozo, Dunbar, Eastern, and so on, the pressure on teachers to pass and promote students is enormous, even if the students don’t attend class, do almost no work, pass no tests, write no papers, and complete no projects. See my excerpt here. […]

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I’m a retired teacher, and I can testify, similar pressures happened in my district as well. Failing anyone got the teacher in trouble, the kids knew it, so doing the work became optional.

It’s not just urban schools. Graduating with low knowledge is a problem across the US. Part of the reason involves the assumption by those who decide school curricula that students did not need basic knowledge in memory because they could “use their calculators” or “just look it up.”

What cognitive scientists have recently discovered is that the brain is very limited when trying to process information that has not previously been well-memorized. Over-reliance on calculators and the internet for information leaves kids unable to solve math, science, history — just about all problems of any complexity. For example, for the impact on STEM majors, see:

https://confchem.ccce.divched.org/content/2017fallconfchemp8

Most types of learning begin with moving fundamentals into memory, and doing so takes time and effort (a.k.a. drill and practice). Unfortunately, that’s how experts on the brain say the brain works.

— EANelson

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