FAKING THE GRADE: Records show Columbia Heights Education Campus appears to inflate grades
WASHINGTON (ABC7) —
Thousands of individual student transcripts and attendance records obtained by the ABC7 I-Team reveal high school students passing required courses despite being marked “unexcused” absent two-thirds of the school days in a semester. The records, similar in scope and size as the records previously reported by the I-Team about Ballou High School, focus on Columbia Heights Education Campus.
With an enrollment of more than 1,300 students grades 6 through 12, Columbia Heights Education Campus (CHEC) is the second-largest campus in the DC Public Schools System. It prides itself on having one of the largest number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes. CHEC receives the second-highest ESEA quality classification of “rising.”
But the I-Team obtained records from an anonymous source that tells a different account. The records indicate students passed required courses with “D” or higher despite being absent up to 63 days in a 90-day school semester. With the number of records presented, the search is not complete at this time. However, the I-Team has found several students in the fall semester of 2017 receiving these passing grades despite being marked with unexcused absences up to two-thirds of the number of school days.
Unlike the records revealed about Ballou High School, the level of chronic absenteeism is not as high. However, the allegations of grade inflation at CHEC appear to be occurring the same months DC Public Schools' investigation into grade inflation at Ballou High School.
The I-Team is not revealing the personal identifying information of any student of which it possesses transcript or attendance records.
Ballou High students told DC Council in December that it was unfair that Ballou High School was singled out for scrutiny by the investigation underway by the DC Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). The OSSE auditing contract obtained by the ABC7 I-Team appears to confirm those students concerns. OSSE is paying an auditing firm to almost exclusively look at Ballou High School allegations. The only directive it gives for investigating other schools is in clause C.5.1.8 which directs, “Conduct an investigative sampling of the validity of transcripts of graduating seniors from 2016-2017 in other DCPS schools.” This omits mention of any review of attendance records used by the I-Team to cross-check student transcripts. That cross-check is responsible for the I-Team’s reports showing students passing classes in apparent violation of DCPS Policy.
That DCPS Policy states that a student with 10 unexcused absences in a semester received a “Failure Due To Absence” grade. Students who accrue more than 30 unexcused absences in a school year are to receive a “failing final grade.”
The ABC7 I-Team showed redacted copies of the CHEC student transcripts and grading reports to DC Councilmembers on the Education Committee.
“I’m not surprised to hear that it’s at other high schools. I was disappointed there was so much attention pointed at Ballou for this exact reason,” Chairman David Grosso said. “If we’re trying to cut corners, or not do everything we’re supposed to do to prepare folks for their adulthood, then we’re really letting them down.”
Said member Robert White, “My reaction is that I’m not surprised. I cannot for the life of me understand the reluctance to an independent investigation. We know for a fact that the issues we’re seeing at Ballou are not confined to that school, certainly."
In response to the ABC7 I-Team’s investigation, DC Public Schools communications director Kristina Saccone released the following statement:
DC Public Schools looks forward to receiving the results of the investigation about attendance and is taking steps to ensure that every student comes to school to learn and leaves high school prepared for college, career, and life.