Faking the Grade: Secret recording exposes teacher pressure to 'pass and promote' students

Faking the Grade: Secret recording exposes teacher pressure to 'pass and promote' students (ABC7)

A November 2015 meeting, secretly recorded by an employee, starts with Roosevelt STAY High School Principal Eugenia Young recalling a meeting she had with DC Public School administrators, including then-chancellor Kaya Henderson.

“We basically were ripped a new a-hole as principals. So that means that I have to come and not rip you guys a new one, but I think I have to come in and be very firm,” said Young. “And it wasn't a conversation, it was like, what was told to us, 'You all suck. You all suck as principals,’ which means your teams are not doing what they need to do because, right now, our promotion rate to the next grade is horrible which will affect our graduation rate. And you all know we move four points or five points this past year, the chancellor wants to move seven points."

ABC7 News is withholding portions of the audio recording mentioning particular student grades and progress. The entire recording obtained by the ABC7 I-Team is nearly half an hour long. The recording is part of a Washington Teacher’s Union grievance, according to sources. One by one, teachers listed students they said would fail due to absences or grades. Young claims DCPS Central Office told her to find a way to pass those students despite D.C. law.

“And I'm saying, 'You're not here, you got 20 absences, okay well, we're going to fail you anyway.' I know that's been the system, and just like you're sitting here with your head blown off saying, 'you're flipping the switch on me,' that's the same thing that I said. What they said to me was, we have the right to flip the switch. I said, 'you know what? You're exactly right.' So let me figure it out with my team,” said Young. “Here's the thing: we have to pass and promote. If we are not then what are we here for? I'm sitting in a meeting to tell the chancellor you've got to give me more resources. I can't sit in the meeting with the chancellor and I'm with big stats in red.”

Some teachers resisted during the meeting, saying despite their constant efforts with tutoring and chasing down students in hallways, some students did not deserve to pass.

“When you say we have to pass and promote, I think all of us are we are all professional, we know that's why we are here. But that makes me feel like we are just going to create this diploma mill,” said one teacher in the recording. That teacher was not the one who recorded the meeting.

After this conversation, a superintendent's audit uncovered that 61 percent of students graduating from Roosevelt STAY High School last year shouldn't have—they had too many absences. At the beginning of this school year, Young was moved to the higher-performing Eliot-Hine middle school in Northeast Washington.

Young and Henderson declined our requests for comment.

“If a student doesn't do the work, despite everything the teacher does, then the student under your policies? Then they fail?” asked ABC7 News when meeting with Chancellor Antwan Wilson last week.

“Then they fail. Let me tell you, that's okay. Because one of the things that I understand is failure is a great teacher, particularly when the failure doesn’t turn into a dead end in terms of support,” said Wilson.

This story has been updated Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018

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