Some Toledo Public Schools leaders -- apparently under pressure to increase the state's weighted average of student test scores -- detailed in back-and-forth emails their desires to exclude special education students and those absent for a length of time from their records.
"Well I sure hope we will be able to do some attendance exclusions," Teri Sherwood, principal of Walbridge Elementary, wrote to Assistant Superintendent Romules Durant on June 20. "My unofficial calculated [Performance Index] ranges from a high of 87.05 to a low of 81.45 depending on what I may be able to exclude. Those darn special education scores can kill your PI, especially with the swing getting away from Alternate Assessments again … keeping my fingers crossed."
The next day, in another email also obtained by The Blade, she addresses students who have multiple absences.
"If I were able to exclude students who had 12 or more absences, I would have 30 total," she wrote. "Fifteen of those are my low special education students who scored limited across the board; those would be the ones I'd really like to exclude. They all have about 20 or more absences. These are my special education students being serviced at other TPS schools."
The Ohio Department of Education has launched an investigation into whether Toledo Public Schools violated state law when the district manipulated some students' attendance data to improve state report-card scores.
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.
A Blade review on Wednesday of some emails from June shows a loose conversation on ways to boost the performance index score, which is one of the measures the state uses for schools and districts.
Mr. Pecko said he ordered a review of the TPS procedures after news reports last month that Columbus City Schools had done the same thing, or "scrubbed" habitually truant students' test scores. However, he said he was not sure TPS had done anything wrong.
Mr. Pecko said Wednesday night that the emails could be interpreted as a request to exclude students to improve a school's score.
"It also could very easily be interpreted as something that was wishful thinking," he said. "I don't know the reality of the situation."
That's because the matter was turned over to the district's legal counsel and an investigator.
He said the tone of one email "frustrated me because it was dealing with special-needs students," he said. "These children deserve our respect."
John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, questioned why Toledo Public Schools stopped the practice if its leadership was unsure it was not allowed.
In a June 21 email to Emilio Ramirez, the principal of Woodward High School, Trent Leedy, principal of Ottawa River Elementary School, wrote that he anticipated a drop in performance index "with all the changes for many buildings including my own."
He goes on to write: "I am going to question the validity of certain schools that report zero suspensions and a high [percentage] attendance. Those are figures we can manipulate rather easily. I don't for many reasons, but I have heard teachers complain of this from other schools at the linkage meetings."
The previous day, Mr. Leedy wrote an email stating it would not be possible to meet a set goal of increasing the performance index.
"Also, my PI is 93.7 for this school year. For me to increase my PI by 10 percent for the accomplished category would mean an increase of 9.37 points. At Pickett, their PI is 65.6 and would need to increase only 6.56 points to meet the accomplished category," he wrote.
"If I manage to make the 10 percent increase for next school year (bringing my PI to 103.07), then the following year, I would need to make 113.37 and then the following year 124.71. The highest you can get is 120 and that is everyone performing at an advanced level on all tests. … It isn't doable and/or sustainable for any principal."
Also on June 20, Anthony Bronaugh, principal of Robinson Elementary said in an email that some students were removed for attendance, but that the school still did not "make Safe Harbor," an Ohio Department of Education provision.
"After removing some kids for attendance and looking at WKC … my current PI is 71.00," he wrote to Mr. Durant. "We also did not make Safe Harbor (we had a lot of kids come in after October count and performed very well)."
Mr. Durant and Ms. Sherwood did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Mr. Bronaugh and Mr. Leedy could not be reached.
The state began the investigation on TPS after a story in The Blade detailed the practice on Saturday. It is not yet clear how much the scrubbing impacted the district's test scores.
Mr. Charlton said educators who purposefully provided inaccurate data to the state could face sanctions, including revocation of their educator's licenses.
On Wednesday, the state education department announced the Lockland School District, in suburban Cincinnati, had filed false attendance data for 36 students during the 2010-2011 academic year, leading to artificially higher state testing results.
"This was not done to help students but to help adults, and that's a case of misplaced priorities," State Superintendent Stan Heffner wrote. "Dishonest actions like these may inflate results but are unacceptable and will not be tolerated."
The state added those students into the Lockland School District's 2011 report card calculations, which resulted in it dropping from "effective" to "continuous improvement," and the district no longer being rated as meeting the federal adequate yearly progress standard.
Mr. Heffner wrote the findings would be referred to the education department's Office of Professional Conduct to determine if any state-licensed Lockland officials "participated in conduct unbecoming the teaching profession to falsely improve 2010-2011 district and/or school building local report card ratings."
Mr. Pecko told The Blade last week that TPS would be able to retain its continuous improvement designation when the 2011-12 data is released next month, even though it would not scrub out student scores, but said the district's performance index score could suffer.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.