Some teachers in the District’s public schools feel pressure to alter grades and attendance records so that underperforming students can pass, according to survey results released Thursday by the Washington Teachers’ Union.
The survey comes in the wake of reports that teachers at Ballou High School in Southeast Washington were pressured by administrators to graduate students who missed much of the school year and scarcely grasped the academic material.
The union — along with EmpowerEd, a local teachers advocacy organization — sent an electronic survey to the city’s 4,000 public school teachers. The results are not necessarily representative, because the survey was not scientific.
More than 600 teachers participated, with 47 percent saying they felt coerced by an administrator to pass or change the grade of a failing student. This pressure, according to the survey, is not isolated to Ballou and is most prevalent in neighborhood schools where a large portion of students come from low-income families.
The survey was distributed and analyzed by employees of the Washington Teachers’ Union.
“Reforms have failed our students in this city, and it’s time to hit the reset button,” said Liz Davis, the president of the union.
Teachers, who were not identified by name or by the school where they teach, commented in the survey that they had tried to fail students who never came to class but that the students ultimately passed because administrators changed grades or forced teachers to provide makeup work.
D.C. schools spokeswoman Kristina Saccone said Chancellor Antwan Wilson meets with teachers at weekly faculty meetings and visits schools.
D.C. Public Schools “are committed to putting our students first, focusing on equity and excellence and always looking for ways to improve,” Saccone wrote.
More than half of the respondents were high school teachers. At Anacostia, Cardozo, Dunbar, Eastern, Roosevelt and Woodson high schools, a majority of teachers at each school participated, according to the survey results.
The survey did not parse the results by school but found that 55 percent of high school teachers said their school’s graduation rate does not accurately reflect student performance.
A report released this month by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education found that administrators at Ballou High School told teachers that a high percentage of their students were expected to pass and encouraged educators to provide makeup work and extra credit to students, no matter how much school they missed. As a result, Ballou graduated students who missed large portions of the school year — a violation of city policy.
The investigation was prompted by a November report by WAMU and NPR that Ballou seniors who did not meet graduation requirements were still given diplomas. While the WAMU-NPR article focused on Ballou, the report from the state superintendent’s office examined attendance and grading practices across the city, determining that truancy is more severe at neighborhood schools such as Ballou than at charter or application schools.
D.C. Public Schools and the superintendent’s office are expected to release additional reports.