Pecko defends district action on ‘scrubbing’

School leader says TPS requested guidance, questions auditor’s report

  • CTY-kasich31p-3

    Jerome "Jerry" Pecko, Superintendent of the Toledo Public Schools, answers questions for the media before Gov. John Kasich speaks to members of the Rotary Club Of Toledo at the Park Inn Hotel on July 30, 2012.

    The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
    Buy This Image

  • Jerome  Pecko
    Jerome Pecko

    Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Jerome Pecko defended how his district handled truancy reports and other data in a written response sent to the Ohio Department of Education over a state investigation involving TPS reporting practices.

    The five-page letter largely rehashes longstanding arguments by TPS administrators that the state knew, or should have known, about TPS data reporting practices and that state education officials failed to provide guidance on how the district should properly report data, despite requests for such guidance.

    Mr. Pecko’s response says the district made good-faith efforts to comply with state regulations, and he questions some findings of a statewide investigation by the state auditor that preceded the education department’s investigation.

    Both the auditor’s and education department’s investigations focused on whether districts improperly removed truant students from enrollment figures, artificially inflating attendance data and test scores.

    The practice is generally referred to as “scrubbing.” Auditor Dave Yost’s report, released last month, accused nine districts — including TPS — of improper data practices.

    The education department’s own investigation could prove more consequential for the nine districts. The department has placed watermarks on the districts’ state report cards indicating ratings are subject to change and warned that districts and employees found to have misreported data could be sanctioned.

    Under the Toledo district’s practice, administrators withdrew then re-enrolled students who missed five consecutive unexcused days and 20 days total. The practice could improve test scores and attendance rates on the schools’ state report cards because only students who are continuously enrolled in a district are counted on those report cards.

    The practice apparently dates to at least the 2002-03 school year, during Eugene Sanders’ superintendency.

    Mr. Pecko’s response sent Friday says TPS cooperated fully with Mr. Yost’s investigation and will cooperate with the education department’s probe. In making his case, he cites media reports in 2008 that detailed how urban districts excluded thousands of test scores on state report cards, and he references a Blade article about education department emails that show the department analyzed data scrubbing in 2008, discussed media reports about the practice, and held high-level meetings about it.

    Mr. Pecko said state education officials never told TPS that its practices were improper after those 2008 media reports and subsequent internal communications.

    “TPS and many other districts understood that they were not to be held responsible for the test results of students whom, for reasons of ‘truancy/nonattendance’ [the terms used in the EMIS manual], they had not had the opportunity to teach,” he wrote.

    Education department officials and Mr. Yost repeatedly have questioned why only a handful of districts extensively used scrubbing practices for truant students, and the education department has rejected the TPS position that it hadn’t provided guidance on reporting data through EMIS, which stands for the Education Management Information System, a statewide data-collection system for Ohio’s primary and secondary education.

    Mr. Pecko said he only learned about the TPS scrubbing policy last year after reports in the Columbus Dispatch about similar practices in that city’s district. He discontinued the withdrawal policy and had district counsel send two letters to state education officials requesting data-reporting guidance.

    The education department never responded to the questions in those letters, he wrote.

    An independent investigator hired by TPS determined district administrators tried to gain guidance on reporting standards for truant students from the state, but no guidance was given, Mr. Pecko wrote.

    Education department officials have said there is no record that those requests ever took place.

    The investigator determined that the TPS truancy definition was reasonable based on state statutes, and administrators thought they were complying with state law and data-reporting guidelines.

    Mr. Yost’s audit determined that for a student to be considered truant — and thus withdrawn — there must be a court adjudication.

    Mr. Pecko also responded in his letter to Mr. Yost’s findings that of 884 students in nine Toledo schools reviewed, it appeared TPS did not follow proper procedure or lacked supporting paperwork with 470 of them. Mr. Pecko argues that supporting documentation is available in many of those cases but that auditors did not review the right files.

    “In light of all the foregoing, I sincerely hope that ODE will come to the same conclusion that I have, that sanctions are not warranted for TPS or its employees,” Mr. Pecko wrote.

    An education department spokesman said officials there received the response and are reviewing the letter.

    Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com, 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.