The Ohio Department of Education has started an investigation into whether Toledo Public Schools violated state law when the district manipulated some students' attendance data to improve state report-card scores, a probe that could result in serious sanctions against educators who were involved. Some might even lose their jobs.
The investigation was ordered after TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko admitted to The Blade last week that schools retroactively withdrew and re-enrolled chronically absent students to erase their poor attendance records. John Charlton, education department spokesman, said the admission triggered the inquiry.
"Based on their own commentary, it appears Toledo Public Schools may not have been following the law," Mr. Charlton said.
Mr. Pecko said Monday he welcomed the state's involvement into what had been an internal inquiry, although he said Department of Education officials were more equivocal about an investigation. Mr. Charlton said he was instructed that his agency will do its own investigation.
"We are ready for their participation," Mr. Pecko said, "and we will take whatever direction they can provide us."
Ohio school districts apparently are allowed to throw out the test scores of students who are not continuously enrolled from October through the testing dates in March and May. That would improve a school's overall performance rating because the withdrawn students' test scores no longer would count.
TPS administrators retroactively at the end of the year withdrew and then re-enrolled what appeared to be at least hundreds of students. Mr. Pecko said he ordered a review of the district's procedures after news reports last month that Columbus City Schools had done the same thing, or "scrubbed" habitually truant students' test scores. It is not yet clear how much the scrubbing impacted the district's test scores.
The Columbus Dispatch reported last month that Columbus City Schools had retroactively altered attendance records for thousands of students, withdrawing and then re-enrolling students.
State Auditor Dave Yost has taken the lead in a joint investigation with the education department.
At least one high-level Columbus administrator has been suspended as a result of the practice, according to newspaper.
Mr. Pecko said no TPS officials have been disciplined thus far or had their work responsibilities altered as a result of the investigation.
Mr. Pecko started his review into TPS' practices voluntarily, and turned over the inquiry to the district's legal counsel because he felt it was "too awkward" to investigate direct subordinates. The district's legal counsel, for similar reasons, turned over the probe to an outside, independent investigator.
The alterations appeared to happen at the building level, Mr. Pecko said, and had been going on for years before his tenure began. He said he did not know if other superintendents were aware of or had initiated the practice.
In August, 2004, Toledo Public Schools test scores jumped under then-Superintendent Eugene Sanders. The Cleveland school district came under scrutiny for "scrubbing" students in 2008, two years after Mr. Sanders took over as that school system's chief executive.
There are numerous legitimate reasons that student data are altered at the end of the year to ensure it is accurate, Mr. Pecko said, and the withdrawal practice was likely one of them. Many principals likely never knew they could possibly be breaking the law.
District leaders assert there's ambiguity about how exactly they should report truant students' test scores, but they have halted the scrubbing process voluntarily. This year's state report card will be "clean," Mr. Pecko said.
"In my mind, it doesn't sit well," he said of the practice, "and we are not going to do it."
Columbus officials also said the practice was widespread in its district and was considered by many to be acceptable, according to the Dispatch. Mr. Charlton said state law is clear about which students can be withdrawn and which should not, and based on Mr. Pecko's statements, the TPS actions are not allowed.
"I think there's some good incentive for the districts to [scrub test scores]. It raises their attendance rate and it can also bring up their test scores," he said. "Even though it's good incentive, it's still not allowed."
The investigation into TPS could have consequences for employees beyond those enforced by the district. Educators found to have purposefully provided inaccurate data to the state could face sanctions, he said, including possible revocation of their educator's licenses.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086.