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Published: Saturday, 7/28/2012

TPS, state on opposite sides of data issue

Local officials say alteration condoned

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Don Yates. Don Yates.
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Finger-pointing has begun as the investigation into possible school data manipulation rapidly escalates.

Officials within Toledo Public Schools say, both publicly and in private, that the Ohio Department of Education has never made it clear that the practice of retroactively withdrawing and re-enrolling habitually truant students was prohibited, and say the department seems to have condoned the practices by remaining silent during similar situations. Education department officials, meanwhile, say the law and their guidance couldn't have been more straightforward.

With three districts -- TPS, Columbus, and Lockland -- wrapped up in the probe, and more possibly on the way, questions remain about whether these were isolated cases or a fraud enabled by a lax or complicit Education Department. State Auditor Dave Yost is probing the issue and said in a letter to the department that the practice's apparent "widespread nature" prompts questions of the education department's supervision.

When TPS officials first acknowledged the test score manipulation, they argued that state direction was unclear. Don Yates, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, said Friday that the test reporting process has been confusing for years, with rules at times unclear or directions inconsistent.

"I don't have any indication that TPS has done anything that was not fully communicated back and forth with folks within ODE, and certainly internally," Mr. Yates said. "I don't think [ODE direction] has been clear, and I don't think it's been consistent."

District officials point to past publicity about removals of test scores, called scrubbing, that they say failed to produce inquiry or direction from the education department, as evidence the department never clearly opposed the practice.

In particular, they note a 2008 story in the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that detailed extensive test scrubbing in the Cleveland district under then-Superintendent Eugene Sanders, previously the top administrator at Toledo Public Schools.

But state education officials say their Education Management Information System handbook and the Ohio Revised Code are unambiguous when it comes to reporting data.

Statutes define what students are habitually truant and outline the withdrawal process. They also outlaw tampering with records.

"We also are hearing from several superintendents that the ORC and the EMIS Manual is very clear," said John Charlton, the spokesman for the education department.

Who knew what and was ultimately responsible likely will be determined by Mr. Yost's investigation. The state auditor said Friday his staff's work plan for the probe should be complete within 10 days, and he said his office is reprioritizing its work to finish a final investigative report by the fall.

What school districts were and weren't told also could weigh heavily in whether anyone is charged.

"It depends on the evidence, and it depends on why they manipulated it," Mr. Yost said of possible prosecutions.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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