Faking The Grade: 7 On Your Side investigates DC Public Schools

Frank W. Ballou Senior High School (ABC7, Photo)

Thousands of pages obtained by the 7 On Your Side I-Team and analyzed this past month show students with unexcused absences totaling more than three quarters of the school year still end up graduating at DC Public School’s Ballou High School.

The documents, obtained by ABC7 News, contain personal identification info for minor students. ABC7 News is not revealing the exact contents of these documents. They contain the complete attendance and grade records for all enrolled students at Ballou High School in Southeast Washington. ABC7 News reported last year the entire Ballou High graduating class was accepted into college.

There are 181 teaching days in the DC Public School calendar. The Ballou records show 26 students graduating with more than 100 unexcused absences in the 2016-2017 school year. The highest number of unexcused absences leading to a graduation was 151 days.

Despite missing all those classes, internal school records show their teachers would give them passing grades in many classes, even giving the occasional B grade. 7 On Your Side analyzed the grades given by Ballou teachers. A statistical sample shows the following percentages of final grades given to all Ballou High students:

A: 19%

B: 25%

C: 26%

D: 10%

F: 19%

This is in stark contrast to Ballou High School’s standardized test scores.

69% of students scored the lowest level on the PARRC English Language test

43% of students scored the lowest level on the PARRC Math test

In short, it is more likely for Ballou teachers to give their students A’s and B’s than D’s and F’s, while they score among the lowest in district-wide standardized tests.

Last week, 7 On Your Side reported internal school documents appeared to show 10 Ballou High football players were in violation of district attendance policy for student athletes. Student athletes may not have more than 3 unexcused absences per season. DCPS rules state those football players would be ineligible to play high school sports. All 10 players identified in the documents played in the Turkey Bowl city championship game last Thursday. DC Public Schools said Tuesday night they reminded principals and athletic directors of the policy.

In a hastily-gathered news conference Wednesday morning, DC Public School Chancellor Antwan Wilson said his office is launching an internal review of Ballou High and other schools.

“The grade that they give students, I do not expect it to be anything different than what students have earned. That's extremely important. I want to say that very strongly. If the teachers are feeling that way, and I’ve had conversations with [Washington Teacher’s Union] President Davis around, just in general, teachers feeling coerced in any issue, then I want to know about it directly, because it's not OK,” said Wilson.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the office of Deputy Mayor is leading an investigation at the same time. They ask parents and teachers to contact their hotline at 202-727-3636.

“I certainly believe that [Ballou] Principal Reeves should be renewed based on my visits to the school, based on what we were learning from our team, and based on my time with her. I will say as we learned about various issues in this story we are talking to her about that and we will continue to do so,” said Chancellor Wilson.

7 On Your Side I-Team found former Ballou Music Teacher Monica Brokenborough. She was a former union representative at Ballou High.

“I do consider myself a whistleblower because at the end of the day, the situation that was going on, it was illegal. It was unethical. It's doing a disservice to the kids. It's overall illegal when your kids are graduating and the didn’t meet the requirements,” said Brokenborough.

She recalled an incident in 2016 involving a student, “She came to me like the last day asking me to give her a packet so she could pass and I literally had never seen the girl in my entire life. I had no idea who she was. She was sent to me by an administrator.”

“I took my issues to city council. I went and testified. I’ve been in communication with the chancellor,” added Brokenborough.

If you are a parent, student or teacher affected by DCPS attendance, grading or graduation policy, we want to hear from you. Contact the 7 On Your Side I-Team at or call 703-340-3170

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