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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

No show, no skills — but they got into college

Ballou High graduates celebrate in June.

Every senior was admitted to college at Washington D.C.’s low-performing Ballou High in June. Most had applied to the open-admission community college that’s part of the University of the District of Columbia.

I had my doubts, because so few students earned college-ready scores: 9 percent passed in English on the PARCC exam, none in math.

It was “smoke and mirrors,” Brian Butcher, who taught history, tells WAMU/NPR.

Students who didn’t show up in class and didn’t complete the work were given diplomas. The average Ballou graduate missed six weeks of school, unexcused, and half missed more than three months, a WAMU/NPR investigation found. “One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school.”

. . . two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation requirements, community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate. In June, 164 students received diplomas.

Teachers were told to given students at least a 50 percent on assignments they never completed, instead of a zero, reports Kate McGree. Students knew they could skip the work, do an easy make-up assignment or a few weeks of “credit recovery” and pass.

Morgan Williams, who taught health and P.E. was asked to change a failing grade. “[They said]’Just give him a D,’ because they were trying to get him out of there and they knew he wouldn’t do the make-up packet.”

Teachers who didn’t go along received poor evaluations, teachers told McGee.

Teacher turnover was high, often leaving students with poorly prepared substitutes. Twenty-one teachers, more than a quarter of Ballou’s teaching staff left during last school year, reported the Washington Post.

It’s not clear how many Ballou graduates actually enrolled in college, reports McGee, who talked to some graduates who are struggling to pass college math. “Of 183 students accepted to the UDC, but only 16 enrolled this fall.”

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