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Published: Friday, 8/17/2012

Auditor: Schools should report data manipulation


State Auditor Dave Yost has asked Ohio school superintendents to voluntarily report possible attendance data manipulation in their districts, promising to advocate for those who step forward.

Mr. Yost is investigating the manipulation of attendance data at schools across the state, prompted by reports of practices in Columbus, Toledo, and Lockland schools that administrators had withdrawn, then re-enrolled students who were habitually absent. The practice could improve test scores and attendance rates on the districts' state report cards, because only students who are continuously enrolled in a district are counted on them.

Mr. Yost sent a letter to all superintendents Wednesday, imposing a 4 p.m. Monday deadline for self-reports.

Some schools may have used improper data-reporting practices inadvertently, the letter states. Coming forward will be seen as an act of good faith.

"The time to tell the truth is now," Mr. Yost wrote.

State Auditor Dave Yost State Auditor Dave Yost

The letter states that those who self-report may separate themselves from those who acted "with fraudulent intent," and Mr. Yost said his office will act as an advocate for those that do come forward by the Monday deadline.

Toledo Public Schools voluntarily admitted its past data manipulations last month to The Blade. Superintendent Jerome Pecko said he began an investigation into his district's policies after reading reports of manipulation in Columbus City Schools.

The district has hired an independent investigator, attorney Fritz Byers, to probe the matter. (Mr. Byers also represents The Blade newsroom on legal matters.)

Under TPS policy, which started in prior administrations, students who had least five unexcused absences in a row and 20 total in a school year were withdrawn in the summer, then immediately re-enrolled.

The state auditor's office said TPS' admission likely will be seen as self-reporting.

"Based on the information we currently have, Toledo Public Schools will receive the same advocacy," auditor's spokesman Brittany Elking said.

Patty Mazur, a Toledo Public Schools spokesman, said Thursday district officials plan to respond to Mr. Yost's letter.

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