School report cards delayed

State board cites inquiry into data manipulation

8/21/2012
BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
State auditor, Dave Yost.
State auditor, Dave Yost.

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to indefinitely delay the release of school report cards in the wake of a statewide investigation into reports of data manipulation.

The Ohio Department of Education was to release full school and district report cards Aug. 29, but the board voted Monday to delay the release into next month. Department spokesman John Chartlon said the delay is unprecedented.

The Education Department has been rocked in recent weeks by revelations that Columbus, Toledo, and Lockland school districts have manipulated attendance data involving habitually truant students. The districts withdrew and then re-enrolled those students, causing their state test scores, as well as their attendance records, to not count for the districts. State Auditor Dave Yost began a statewide investigation into school data reporting, which includes potential Education Department practices and possible data oversight flaws.

Meanwhile, the department is working under an interim superintendent, after Stan Heffner abruptly resigned this month amid ethics questions. The board of education called a special meeting for today to discuss the report cards.

"The report cards are intended to give an accurate picture of how well schools are doing, and they shouldn't be released with a cloud hanging over their reliability," Michael Sawyers, acting state superintendent of public instruction, wrote in a statement Monday. "Auditor Yost is expected to release his findings later in the fall, and until those findings are out and any problems corrected, it would be irresponsible to issue report cards."

The board is to discuss the report cards when it next meets on Sept. 10 and 11. The report cards list, among other information, student test scores, graduate and attendance rates, student demographics, school and district ratings.

Toledo Public School officials did not respond to several requests for comment Monday, but have said in the past they hope Mr. Yost's investigation exonerates TPS administrators' actions and provides clear guidelines for how schools should handle data for habitually truant students.

Meanwhile, depending on when Mr. Yost releases his report, the delay in the state report card could stretch beyond November elections, when TPS has a 4.9-mill levy request. Preliminary results show the district's performance index score -- a weighted average of all test scores -- dropped to 81.4 in the 2011-12 school year from 83.1 in the 2010-11 year.

Perrysburg schools will ask voters this fall to approve a four-year levy that ranges from 13.15 mills in the first year to 17 mills in its final year. Superintendent Tom Hosler said he's not concerned that the report-card delay would affect the levy request and said it was more important that the state makes sure the information it releases isn't flawed.

"No one likes delays, no one likes waiting," Mr. Hosler said, "but certainly I would rather have to deal with a delay than having information out that might not be accurate."

The board of education also Monday agreed to begin a nationwide search, led by its executive committee, for a permanent replacement for Mr. Heffner. Mr. Sawyers will be acting superintendent during the search.

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