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Published: Monday, 1/13/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

TPS part of ‘scrubbing’ inquiry

7 Ohio school districts referred to Office of Professional Conduct

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Romules Durant, superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, speaks as Dr. Hope Bland, also of TPS, listens. Romules Durant, superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, speaks as Dr. Hope Bland, also of TPS, listens.
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The Ohio Department of Education has referred seven school districts, including Toledo Public Schools, to its Office of Professional Conduct, which will investigate whether any individual staff members “participated in conduct unbecoming the teaching profession” by manipulating student data.

The move could have serious implications for TPS administrators: School officials found to have manipulated data could lose their educator’s license, prohibiting them from teaching in an Ohio public school. The announcement Monday by ODE is the latest fallout in a statewide investigation in data “scrubbing,” or how some districts withdrew chronically absent students from the classroom and then promptly re-enrolled them to “scrub” them from attendance data reported to the state.

Toledo officials voluntarily notified the Ohio Department of Education of its practice after attendance scrubbing at Columbus schools was publicized by the Columbus Dispatch. Toledo officials argued the practice was well-known and done with no ill intent.

Romules Durant, TPS superintendent, said that the district has since changed its policy regarding truant students, so that now students are only withdrawn after they’ve been found truant through a hearing officer. He said he doesn't believe officials currently at TPS acted improperly, and didn’t think any should face discipline. He said he hadn’t even considered that he may face sanctions by the state.

State Auditor Dave Yost launched a statewide investigation into the practices. The Education Department conducted its own investigation, analyzing report cards for the 2010-11 school year for those districts. The department said in a statement Monday that it reviewed student records to determine if students were reported by another institution as enrolled there. It then gave districts a chance to prove withdrawals were valid.

The department’s analysis showed of the 614 withdrawals from TPS that year, 425 were improper. Toledo had the second-most improper withdrawals, according to ODE, though it was dwarfed by the Cleveland district, where the education department deemed 3,540 of its 7,624 withdrawals improper.

The department determined more than half the withdrawals at the districts were invalid, and said those withdrawals could artificially inflate district and school report cards. Providing inaccurate data through the state’s data reporting system is against state law, ODE said.

“Misreporting of attendance data or ‘scrubbing’ jeopardizes the entire accountability system in Ohio and will not be tolerated,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross said in a statement. “These actions will be investigated and may result in professional conduct sanctions up to and including suspension or revocation of licensure.”

Districts referred to the office of Professional Conduct were TPS, Campbell City, Cincinnati Public Schools, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Marion City School District, Northridge Local School District, and Winton Woods City School District.

The scrubbing issues at Columbus schools were considered to be the most egregious and are being reviewed by federal investigators.

Beyond the potential sanctions for educators at the seven districts, district state report cards will also be recalculated for those whom the state determined provided inaccurate data. The education department reviewed the data but did not determine who actually made the record changes at the schools, which is something the office of Professional Conduct would do.

“I am pleased ODE followed through with their investigation and drew the same conclusions as our audit,” Mr. Yost said in a statement.

The Canton district was reviewed by the education department but not referred to the Office of Professional Conduct. The department determined the Marion district did not misreport data, though it was referred to the office for further review.

In Toledo, principals — under the direction of top TPS administrators — withdrew students who missed five days in a row and 20 total days in a year, then re-enrolled them. District officials have long argued their policy was a good-faith effort to comply with state reporting guidelines, and was not an attempt to artificially inflate test scores. Students who weren’t tested were withdrawn, and withdrawals were made regardless of test scores, officials said.

TPS leaders have repeatedly argued that the state’s inaction after 2008 reports about similar practices was to them a tacit approval of their reporting practices. The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported then that the Cleveland district excluded the test scores of thousands of students.

Internal department emails show the education department analyzed data scrubbing, discussed media reports about the practice, and held high-level meetings about it. Yet no sanctions were taken then against districts.

The Toledo district also hired an outside attorney to review its practices. That report by Fritz Byers largely exonerates TPS officials.

The state plans to conduct a similar investigation of data reporting for the 2011-12 school year.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at:

nrosenkrans@theblade.com,

419-724-6086, or on

Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.



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