The D.C. government released a striking report this week highlighting pervasive absenteeism among high school seniors: More than 11 percent of graduates receiving a diploma from a D.C. public high school last year missed most of the academic year.
The report from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education saved its sharpest criticism for Ballou High School, which has been engulfed in a graduation scandal since a WAMU and NPR article found the school issued diplomas to seniors who missed large chunks of the academic year and did not meet graduation requirements. D.C. school policy dictates that students should fail a class if they are absent 30 times.
But the state superintendent’s report showed that the problem is far from isolated to that single Southeast Washington institution, concluding that high rates of absenteeism are most common among neighborhood schools such as Ballou, Eastern and Anacostia high schools.
Take a look at some of the data and charts below, which were compiled in the report.
Here’s citywide data, which includes public and charter schools.
In the 2017 class, 7.9 percent of graduates from all schools — public and charter — missed more than half of the academic year, a jump from 5.5 percent the year before.
Some of the most disturbing findings involved students with rampant absenteeism: The graduation rate for seniors who missed most of the 2016-2017 academic year climbed to nearly 45 percent. That’s an increase from about 31 percent in 2016.
The report also examines just how many days of the school year seniors missed. At Ballou, about 35 percent of 2017 graduates missed more than half the school year, and no graduate had missed fewer than 5 percent of school days. The high absenteeism at Ballou matches the report’s overall findings: Neighborhood schools with a large population of students from low-income families are most likely to have truant graduates.
Anacostia High School, a neighborhood school in Southeast Washington with a significant proportion of students from low-income families, also had high absenteeism. About 44 percent of the 2017 graduating class of 93 students missed 30 to 50 percent of the school year, and 15 percent of graduates missed more than half the school year.
Similar numbers existed at Cardozo Education Campus, a neighborhood school in Northwest Washington, with about 40 percent of graduates missing at least one-third of the school year.
Compare these schools to Benjamin Banneker, a high-performing and competitive public magnet school where more than 75 percent of the student body is black, and 15 percent is Latino. Attendance is much higher than at neighborhood schools. More than 70 percent missed less than 10 percent of the academic year.
Wilson High School, a high-achieving neighborhood school in Northwest D.C., struggled with attendance in 2017. According to the report, more than 30 percent of graduates did not meet the attendance standards required to earn their diploma. D.C. Council Member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) issued a statement Wednesday in response to the report, questioning the validity of the city’s improving graduation rates.
“It is deeply disappointing to hear that Wilson High School is also engulfed in the issue of giving diplomas to students who have not met DCPS’s graduation requirements,” the statement reads, using the acronym for D.C. Public Schools. “This is proof, yet again, that the problem in DCPS is not limited to one or two high schools; rather, there is systemic pressure to push students through the system.”
Dunbar High School in Northwest D.C. is a neighborhood high school with a significant share of students from low-income families. While its 2017 senior class had students who missed more than 50 percent of the school day, not many of these students graduated.
This chart shows graduation rates for Dunbar students who were frequently absent. Bucking citywide trends, the school decreased the number of truant students it graduated over the past three years.
The report found that charter school students had higher attendance rates, and graduated fewer students who missed more than 30 percent of the school year. Here’s the data from Friendship Public Charter School Collegiate Academy in Northeast Washington.
The full report with attendance data for individual schools can be found here.