Students Across D.C. Graduated Despite Chronic Absences, An Investigation Finds

A high-level investigation into chronic absenteeism in Washington, D.C., high schools has found that students across the city were graduated despite missing more than 30 days of school in a single course, in violation of district policy.

The report, which focused on Ballou but reviewed absenteeism and graduation policies system-wide, found that the number of students with high numbers of absences has increased in recent years and more students with a record of high absenteeism are graduating.

The findings today followed an investigation late last year by WAMU and NPR Ed into widespread violations of this policy at Ballou High school. That reporting has has led to two investigations and the placement of the school's principal, Yetunde Reeves, on administrative leave. Results from the other inquiry are expected later this month.

The official investigation comes out of the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE), which contracted with a private firm to look into what happened at Ballou and other high schools. That investigation was ordered by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Dec. 1.

"The huge investments we have made in our schools only work if students are sitting in the seats," Bowser said at a news conference today.

The OSSE findings also confirmed our reporting from the last school year at Ballou High School, citing violations, specifically, with 113 of 177 graduating students' records. Those include:

  • A pattern of students graduating despite extreme absenteeism
  • Inappropriate and excessive use of credit recovery (accelerated versions of a class)
  • A pattern of communications from administrators urging teachers to find ways of passing students regardless of absences. Teachers reported concerns about the effect this had on their performance evaluations.

Antwan Wilson, the chancellor of the city's public schools, said he was "disappointed" by the findings, notably that "over 60 percent of students [were] graduating despite chronic absences."

Chancellor Antwan Wilson said the school district's internal review also saw excessive passing rates for absent students across city and that officials needs to do follow-up work at Anacostia, Eastern, Woodson and Roosevelt High Schools to better understand what's happening at those schools.

"Failure is a part of life," Wilson said, but he said the district still needs to make sure that students adhere to policies and are set up for success.

Results from a full, district-wide investigation are expected at the end of this month.

Since publishing our initial report, WAMU and NPR Ed have heard from educators across the country that similar practices are taking place in their schools.

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