Bowser Vows to Rectify DCPS Graduation-Rate Scandal

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser addresses attendees at the DC Public Education Fund’s 2017 Philanthropy Forum at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in northwest D.C. on Oct. 5. (E Watson/EDI Photo)
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser addresses attendees at the DC Public Education Fund’s 2017 Philanthropy Forum at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in northwest D.C. on Oct. 5. (E Watson/EDI Photo)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser promised Thursday to get to the bottom of the graduation-rate scandal engulfing the city’s public schools system, particularly at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast.

In a letter to city residents, Bowser pointed out the schools system’s progress over the past decade, but acknowledged the “devastating news” she had to deliver about the system after reports surfaced late last year of inflated graduation rates at Ballou.

“The OSSE investigation revealed poor student attendance, a culture of graduating students despite poor attendance, training and technology failures within DCPS, and pressure to pass students in order to meet or exceed graduation goals,” Bowser said. “Misapplied policies and a desire to help our most disadvantaged students led to a series of failures we must now overcome.”

She said her plan to combat the issue includes commissioning a third-party investigation by a private firm overseen by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education; publicly presenting facts as they became available; holding those responsible for wrongdoings accountable; and setting a clear and deliberate course to fix what has been broken.

Bowser said the short-term steps to regaining the public’s faith in the schools system include appointing a chief integrity officer at DCPS; holding the system leadership accountable for attendance/grading and school-level failures; and referring the investigative reports to the D.C. inspector general for additional evaluation.

“As we confront our challenges, I want to be very clear that we will not tolerate any forms of cheating in our school system,” the mayor wrote. “When this occurs, it jeopardizes our students, our taxpayers, and our future as a city.”

She said information on other upcoming changes, including updates to the DCPS grading and credit recovery policies and the implementation of end-of-course assessments for core courses by the 2022 school year, can be found at attendance.dc.gov.

“But we won’t stop there,” Bowser said. “Beginning with the Class of 2018, we are working to ensure that every DCPS diploma has the value that our students deserve. DCPS is already in the process of conducting comprehensive reviews of student transcripts and ensuring that schools have support systems and aligned accountability systems to properly follow attendance, grading, and credit recovery policies this semester. This will inevitably lead to some tough conversations with our students and families. Seniors will be informed whether they are on track to graduate, and if not, what options they have. We want every student to succeed, and we will have the appropriate supports in place to help them do so.

“Starting at Ballou, DCPS will host resource fairs to connect more students and families to the supports they need to be successful in school, including on attendance,” she said. “We want to hear directly from students about what obstacles they face so that we can help them overcome those challenges. And, going forward, it is critical that we continually instill in our students that there is nothing more important to me, you, or our city than their individual success.”

Bowser touted DCPS’s achievements over the past decade, including recognition as the fastest-improving urban school district in the country based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, as well as increasing enrollment numbers following years of decline.

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