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Published: Wednesday, 10/24/2012

State inquiry into school districts’ tinkering with data progresses

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost goes over the School Attendance Data Interim Report during a press conference in his Columbus office. Ohio Auditor Dave Yost goes over the School Attendance Data Interim Report during a press conference in his Columbus office.
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Enlarge

The second phase of a statewide audit into possible manipulation of school attendance data found no new instances of improper “scrubbing.”

State Auditor Dave Yost released a report Tuesday on the latest phase of his investigation into reports that some schools withdrew and then re-enrolled truant students.

His office investigated 81 school buildings in 47 districts, all with levies on the November ballot, including three schools in Bowling Green City Schools. None of the schools tested during this phase showed signs of improper or illegal attendance reporting practices.

“I’m surprised and pleased,” Mr. Yost said in a statement. “To have zero incidents of ‘scrubbing’ is encouraging news.”

The first phase, released earlier this month, cited several schools — including eight in Toledo Public Schools — for what the auditor’s office considered improper scrubbing of truant students. Though that report flagged the TPS schools, it did not identify specific issues at those schools, only noting that their attendance-reporting practices were improper.

Mr. Yost’s investigation started earlier this year after revelations that Columbus, Toledo, and Lockland consistently withdrew habitually truant students and then immediately re-enrolled those students. Students must be continuously enrolled throughout the school year for their test scores to count for a school district.

By withdrawing and then re-enrolling students who were chronically truant, Toledo administrators removed them from numbers reported to the state that could have dragged down the district’s test scores and attendance rates on its school report cards.

TPS has argued its practices were a good-faith effort to handle truant students in a complicated reporting system and said it sought guidance from the Department of Education four years ago with little response.

There are numerous legitimate reasons for schools to “scrub,” or remove, student data. Some students leave for other districts, while others are removed to be home-schooled, for instance. Schools aren’t expected to keep count of those students’ scores.

While most schools previously scrutinized for large rates of scrubbing have been in large, high-poverty urban areas that tend to have high student truancy rates, the latest phase of the investigation seemed to focus more on suburban and rural districts.

In the trio of Bowling Green schools examined by the state, auditors noted only one record discrepancy: a student presumably left the district for another country but a written description of the move was lacking in the student’s file. District Superintendent Ann McVey said the district prides itself on its record-keeping diligence and welcomed the clean bill of health from the auditor’s office.

“We figured we would be squeaky-clean,” she said. “So it’s nice when there’s verification that what you are doing is good.”

Other northwest Ohio districts with a levy on the ballot, such as Ottawa Hills, had so few instances of scrubbed students that the auditor’s office didn’t even scrutinize those districts’ records.

The auditor’s investigation into attendance practices continues. Mr. Yost’s office plans to develop a formula to help it flag schools statewide for possible attendance manipulation in its final report, and unresolved issues remain, such as the definition of truancy.

In the initial report, the state auditor took the position that a student can’t be considered truant unless adjudicated so by a court of law; several Ohio school officials have said that definition is only an interpretation by the auditor’s office and one they’d never heard before the initial report’s release.

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



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