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Faking the Grade: Who knew what and when?

7 On Your Side Faking the Grade (ABC7 photo)

Documents and statements obtained by the ABC7 I-Team show Chancellor Antwan Wilson was alerted about documents proving grade inflation at Ballou High School nearly three months before he acknowledged receiving an alert.

DC public education was virtually rebuilt when Michelle Rhee became DC Public Schools chancellor. Appointed after Mayor Adrian Fenty took control of schools in 2007, Rhee introduced the IMPACT system that grades teachers and administrators on performance. The Washington Teacher's Union (WTU) opposed the move, saying it created pressure to inflate grades.

When asked where that pressure came from, WTU President Elizabeth Davis said, “The system. The IMPACT evaluation process which basically rates teachers on their performance, rate principals on their performance. It is a very subjective, punitive, performance evaluation tool.”

Kaya Henderson double-downed on the impact grading system after replacing Rhee as chancellor in 2010. In 2016, some schools began seeing large numbers of DC teachers calling it quits before getting fired.

"IMPACT is now being used as a weapon. Teachers are not being evaluated fairly," said former Ballou music teacher Monica Brokenborough, whose position was eliminated last year. "Teachers who didn't want to go along with this, people lost their jobs. They didn't have the luxury of being put on a six-month leave. They would find out over the summer in a letter."

Rhee could not be reached for comment. Henderson declined to answer our questions.

The new chancellor, Antwan Wilson, was warned about grade inflation by two councilmembers last summer. At the center of this warning, detailed attendance records and grading transcripts for hundreds of students at Ballou High School.

“The teacher from Ballou High School, for example, brought those documents to my office. Told me about them. I was on a school tour when she approached me. I took them seriously. I went through them and I sent them to DCPS and said, ‘look, you need to investigate and do something with this,’" said David Grosso, chair of the DC Council's Education Committee. "This would have been in the summer. And they did actually take a look at it, and they thought about it.”

The documents, obtained by ABC7 News in November, showed Ballou High School students graduating with 135, 140, even as high as 151 unexcused absences in a year. The teacher brought those documents to another councilmember, Robert White.

“It makes me feel frustrated because when people come to councilmembers or come to the mayor with an issue like this, we have to take it seriously,” White said.

Emails obtained by the I-Team show White received those documents Aug. 24. According to White and his staff, he met Wilson on Aug. 31 and talked about the documents and other school topics. Despite the councilmember's and staff's insistence, Wilson claims he didn't learn of the revealing documents until November through media reports.

“Do you recall any discussion about those documents that were given to councilmember White by a former Ballou teacher?” asked ABC7 News.

“Councilmember White did not share any documents with me,” Wilson said.

“Did he talk about any documents?” asked ABC7 News.

“No.”

“That is not accurate,” said White in response to Wilson’s statement.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, standing by her appointed chancellor, said she wished action was taken sooner, before November news reports exposed serious problems at DC Public Schools.

"What I'm not happy with is knowing that we had problems that weren't immediately communicated to people that could do something about it,” Bowser said.

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