At Washington D.C.’s Ballou High School, every student who graduated got into college, even the students who never showed up for school or who couldn’t read or write. From Kate McGee at wamu.org:
DCPS has touted Ballou’s graduation rate as a success story, but a WAMU/NPR investigation has revealed that many students who graduated should have been held back.
Brian Butcher, a history teacher at Ballou High School, sat in the bleachers of the school’s brand new football field last June watching 164 seniors receive diplomas. It was a clear, warm night, and he was surrounded by screaming family and friends snapping photos and cheering.
It was a triumphant moment for the students. For the first time, every Ballou graduate applied and was accepted to college. The school is located in one of D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods; it has struggled academically for years and has had a chronically low graduation rate. In 2016, the school graduated only 57 percent of its seniors according to data from D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), slightly up from 51 percent the year before. For months after June’s commencement, the school received national media attention, including from NPR, celebrating its achievement.
But all the excitement and accomplishment couldn’t shake one question from Butcher’s mind:
How did all these students graduate from high school?
“You saw kids walking across the stage, who, they’re nice young people, but they don’t deserve to be walking across the stage,” Butcher said.
Butcher’s concerns were not unwarranted.
An investigation by WAMU and NPR has found that Ballou High School’s administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. WAMU and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of Ballou’s attendance records, class rosters and emails after a DCPS employee shared the private documents. The documents showed that half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school.
According to DCPS policy, if a student misses a class 30 times, he should fail that course. Research shows that missing 10 percent of school, about two days per month, can negatively affect test scores, reduce academic growth and increase the chances a student will drop out.