A Bit More on the Fraudulent Grades and Promotions in DC Schools

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?


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.

anacostia HS graph 1

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:

anacostia HS graph 2

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:

ballou HS graph 1

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:

ballou HS graph 2

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.

wilson graph 1

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.

wilson graph 2

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.

maya angelou graph 1

maya angelou graph 2

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:

maya angelou graph 3


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




Rhee’s Legacy and the Future of Education in DCPS

Rhee’s presence was extremely divisive here in DC, largely along class and racial lines. Many wealthy whites thought she was wonderful, because they thought she was ‘reforming’ a corrupt, incompetent, black-run and black-staffed school system, and because they saw her replacing black veteran teachers, staff members, and administrators with brand-new, young white and Asian replacements. (I am not exaggerating.)

Of course, very very few of the white population have kids in DC public schools – and even fewer in the charter schools, so they don’t really know what’s going on in side the majority of schools. However, they did notice that many of the schools in mostly-white areas of DC got physical makeovers — not because of Rhee, but because of moves that were made before her arrival — and attributed those improvements to Rhee anyway.

Not surprisingly, most hispanics and african-americans in DC saw her in starkly different terms, as did almost all teachers (old or new); even the new TFA types found themselves being labeled (libeled) as part of the problem after a month or so on the job. The current local and national leadership of the teachers’ union completely caved in to Rhee’s demands.

The fact is, however, that in terms of actual teaching and learning, especially on the secondary level, it’s still a nightmare in most of DCPS. Teachers are still forced to pass students regardless of actual school attendance rates, homework completion, or passing of teacher-made tests; student absenteeism at the HS level is astronomical and completely unchecked by administrators; there is exactly zero support for teachers in the areas of student discipline or having a coherent curriculum; and teachers feel enormous pressure to teach entirely to the local NCLB standardized test.

Teachers of Advanced Placement courses find that students who have absolutely no desire to take the course are enrolled in the courses against their (the students’) will (and of course against the recommendations of teachers who know them); teachers who go to the trouble of making up different versions of a test so as to cut down on cheating are punitively transferred for … expecting that there might be  cheating; and much more. And the statistical manipulation of standardized test scores is phenomenal. A number of my blog entries deal with that.

Another part of Rhee’s legacy has been the phenomenal increase in the proportion of the city’s educational system that is run by charter schools. Thus, we have even less and less of a public school system than ever before, and more and more of little tiny quasi-private entities beholden to no one, with zero public accountability.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that the new DCPS administration will be all that different. The new interim chancellor, Kaya Henderson, was Michelle Rhee’s right-hand-person and spokesperson, and uttered many of the statistical lies of the DCPS administration. She never once gainsaid any of MR’s numerous falsehoods. The presumptive mayor-elect keeps saying he will continue the same type of ‘deforms’, and I unfortunately think he means it.

As far as I can tell, the flogging of teachers will continue until,  miraculously, both morale and student achievement somehow improve. Or until there is yet another uprising of parents, students, and teachers against this monstrous corporate Deform agenda.
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