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.




John Merrow on the Rhee-Henderson-Caveon Whitewash

John Merrow has a hard-hitting article on the multiple lies uttered by Michelle Rhee and her best friend, Kaya Henderson, and the whitewash they hired Caveon to perform. Here is a quote:


At the April 18th hearing Chairman Catania alluded to what he called Caveon’s ‘positive’ role in helping expose the Atlanta cheating.  That is an overstatement, to put it mildly. Prior to its work for DCPS, Caveon had been hired by the (so-called) “Blue Ribbon Committee” established to look into allegations of cheating in Atlanta.  Caveon looked–and reported finding nothing wrong in what turned out to be the epicenter of cheating by adults on standardized tests. [8] Dr. Fremer told me that while he ‘knew’ there was widespread cheating going on, that was not mentioned in his final report. “We did not try to find out who was cheating,” he said.  “Our purpose was to rank order the schools beginning with those with the most obvious problems (of unbelievably dramatic score increases), in order to make the task of investigating more manageable.”   In other words, Caveon produced a list!

Dr. Fremer admitted that he knew some Atlanta teachers were lying to him, but he said his hands were tied because he didn’t have subpoena power.

Georgia’s investigators are contemptuous of Caveon’s efforts, labelling it a ‘so-called investigation.’  Richard Hyde, one of the three leaders of the investigation, told me that “either by coincidence or design, it was certain to fail.”  Mr. Hyde denied that Caveon needed subpoena power because its investigators were representing a governmental agency, and under Georgia law it is a felony to lie to someone representing the government.  What’s more, Mr. Hyde said, Caveon had a fundamental conflict of interest–it was investigating its employer, at least indirectly, because the “Blue Ribbon Commission” (which Mr. Hyde dismisses as “The Whitewash Commission”) included a deputy superintendent of schools.

Robert Wilson, another leader of the Georgia investigation, is even blunter. Of course Caveon didn’t find cheating because “Caveon couldn’t find its own ass with either hand,” he scoffed.  Why anyone would hire Caveon was, he said, beyond him–unless they didn’t want to find out anything.


3. Just how weak was Mr. Willoughby’s effort?  As we reported on Frontline in January, the Inspector General’s investigation is remarkable for what it did not investigate. He chose not to investigate 2008, the year with the most erasures. He chose not to investigate Aiton, the school Dr. Sanford had singled out for special attention because of its high wrong to right erasures. He did not examine the test answer sheets or perform an electronic analysis. And he did not investigate J.O Wilson – a school with excessive WTR erasures in 100% of its classrooms – simply because Chancellor Henderson had assured him that it was a good school.

Although more than half of DC’s schools had been implicated, he focused only on Noyes Education Campus, the school that USA Today had made the centerpiece of its investigation. Over the course of the next 17 months, his team interviewed just 60 administrators, teachers, parents and teachers, all from Noyes Education Campus. (Atlanta investigators interviewed over 2,000 people and reviewed 800,000 documents). Rather than seek outside experts (as Atlanta investigators had), he relied heavily on information from Caveon, which had been, of course, in the employ of DCPS. He did not ask to perform erasure analysis but relied on interviews–sometimes conducted over the phone.

Without the power to put people under oath, he told City Council member McDuffie in February that he just asked them if they had cheated. If they said they hadn’t, that was the end of it, because, he explained, he “wasn’t conducting a fishing expedition.” Test monitors sent by the central office to patrol Noyes for the 2010 test told Mr. Willoughby that they had been barred from entering classrooms. School officials denied that charge–and Mr. Willoughby believed them, not the monitors.

Criticism by Teacher/Reporter on Michelle Rhee’s “Crocodile Tears” re Chicago Teachers’ Strike

Definitely worth reading:


Michelle Rhee wrote an op ed in the Washington Post on 9/28/12.
There are 512 comments.
Here are two that I wrote.  I couldn’t help but wonder at her short memory.

Chicago Teachers Strike Underscores Shift Among Democrats by Michelle Rhee

Washington Post, 9/28/12      http://tinyurl.com/9hnqr2t

Comments by Erich Martel

Dear Ms. Rhee, (Part I)

It’s always good to be reminded how “passionate” you are “about the rights of workers” as you continue to crusade unselfishly for the children and stand ever ready to counsel politicians on the make from either party.

Thanks to your acclaim, Chicago teachers and CTU President Karen Lewis and their many parent/ community supporters understood Mayor Rahm’s game.  They heeded the warning, “Beware of mayors bearing Michelle Rhee’s gifts.”  In the midst of a national election, they said, “Won’t Back Down.”

In your op-ed piece you made some statements that were rather surprising in light of your policies and practices back when you were our rock star chancellor in Washington , D.C.

First, there’s the 3-year cheating scandal, 2008-2010.  You were informed by CTB/McGraw-Hill, the testing company for the NCLB standardized tests, that classrooms in 103 DC schools were flagged for statistically excessive Wrong to Right erasures. You hired Caveon for a review, but restricted its forensic reach.  If you profess to care about the achievement gap, why would you allow students and their parents to be misled with potentially false results?

The bonus awards, including federal Race to the Top grants, were based on inflated scores.  Tell Chancellor Henderson and State Supt. Mahaley to institute a full and independent investigation, like the one in Atlanta .

I was really surprised to see you write, “When kids do make it to college, roughly a third need remedial work because they weren’t adequately prepared by the K-12 system.”

Did you forget how you treated math and science education in DCPS – well, all education, really?  When you and Kaya Henderson were appointed to DCPS in June 2007, DC already had in place standards that received top ratings from the Fordham Institute. The next step was to convene teachers to write aligned curricula.  As the bridge between subject standards and coherent lesson plans, their absence made lesson planning burdensome, making teachers vulnerable to poor evaluations.

You did nothing, because your & your foundation patrons’ agenda to be the lightning rod of teacher and union blame by developing a high-profile teacher evaluation instrument to find teachers ineffective and difficult to challenge when unfairly applied.  In addition and in sync with the evaluation, the union contract had to be weakened, so you could use budget changes, school closures or program changes to mass terminate scores or more teachers at one time, regardless of their evaluations and general excellence.

“Roughly a third need remedial work” – Are you forgetting that you instituted afternoon “credit recovery” in all DCPS high schools (“no traditional homework” allowed) in 2008-09?  Students cut day classes to get an easier pass.  Content mastery was a joke. I described it on Fordham’s Education Gadfly: http://tinyurl.com/bwco5sm .  Your lite diplomas: the fast track to remedial college classes.

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Dear Ms. Rhee, (Part II)

You wrote, “The US is falling behind … in math and science.”  I’m surprised you finally noticed. I arranged meetings for you with leading reading researcher Louisa Moats and with math researcher Barry Garelick, whose writings described the advantages of Singapore math and how EveryDay Math (used by DCPS) impedes math fluency.  Did you meet with them?

In July 2009, you dissolved the city-wide science dept, fired its director & moved all teaching support staff to the “the teaching & learning framework,” allegedly the basis of the IMPACT teacher evaluation, that had to be ready by Sept 2009.

The year before, you arbitrarily transferred Wilson HS’s AP Biology teacher (the most effective in DCPS) to a disorderly middle school. In 14 yrs: 124 5s; 92 4s; 95 3s; 92 2s; 38 1s):  http://www.reinstatedrart.com/student.html In 6 weeks, a student-initiated petition secured over 500 current and former students and parents, who cited his formative role in college preparation & why some chose science and medicine, asked you to restore him to Wilson.  You refused.  Yes, you want parent trigger laws, when they suit your agenda. When parents and students spoke up for academic integrity, you would not “back down.”

Your crocodile tears about the obstacles facing black and Hispanic students contradict your performance.  I’m reminding you of the events prior to your and Asst Supt John Davis’s involuntarily transfer me from Wilson HS in 2010: due to “significant philosophical educational differences with the Wilson HS admin” (www.dcpswatch.com/martel ):

1.  You allowed 5-year hs players on DCPS athletic teams, compromising academic and athletic integrity and NCAA eligibility.

2.  Dec 2009:  After I sent you a 10-page faculty survey (89% participation) describing hallway disruption at Wilson HS, you sent the principal assistance:  Suddenly administrators were visible in the halls, actually stopping student disruption during class time.

3.  March 2010:  When I show the principal my strategies for preventing cheating (small fonts, scrambled pages – like the SAT), he accuses me of “creating an expectation that students will cheat.  They will rise to meet your expectations.”  He confirmed it to WPost reporter Jay Mathews:   http://tinyurl.com/yeew6zm  With all the cheating on the standardized tests reported to you, why didn’t you inform me and the principal that I was doing the right thing?  Do you condone cheating?  The principal is always right?

4. April 2010: I report to you & Henderson that the asst principal and several aides & deans (no parents) took 88 seniors (mostly Afr-Am) to the Bahamas during 3 school days, 2 wks before AP exams.  Many students are failing (8 w/ >200 unex absences!). Once there, students were unsupervised. ONLY the chancellor (YOU) can approve int’l trips.  I had reported similar problems the year before.  Why did you approve it w/o checking: Is Wilson special?  Afr-Am students don’t matter?


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