COLUMBUS — At least 40 of the 100 schools the state auditor is investigating for student-data manipulation are from six large, urban school districts, a newspaper’s analysis found. Schools in Toledo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, and Youngstown have been visited by state auditors.
Officials in Akron and Canton — the other two “Big 8” districts in Ohio — refused to say whether schools there are being looked at.
The Columbus Dispatch identified 54 schools in a dozen of Ohio’s 614 districts that have been visited in the first phase of the auditor’s investigation.
Although a district may have been visited by state auditors, those reviews don’t necessarily mean anything inappropriate occurred.
State Auditor Dave Yost is investigating whether schools manipulated student-attendance records. He is focusing only on the 2010-11 school year.
Some schools have been caught, or admitted to, withdrawing and then re-enrolling students who hadn’t left. The withdrawals meant the schools wouldn’t be held accountable on state report cards for the students’ test scores or poor attendance.
The Dispatch analyzed districts’ withdrawal trends to identify which ones might be likely targets of the auditor’s investigation and then made public-records requests to discover details about auditors’ visits.
Although many of the schools are in big urban school districts with high rates of student turnover, other districts are suburban, rural, or small. They all have one thing in common, though: They had withdrawn large numbers of students who also had taken state exams.
Some districts said auditors spent several days in their buildings reviewing hundreds of student files.
In Toledo schools, for example, audit staff examined about 800 student records in eight schools. Thirty-nine Columbus buildings have been visited.
Spokesman Jeff Warner confirmed that auditors were following 1,236 student records that originated at 10 schools.
Columbus is the state’s largest school district, with about 50,000 students. The Plain Dealer reported that attendance records in 15 Cleveland schools are being audited. Questionable data practices in Columbus and Toledo and confirmed falsification at Lockland in suburban Cincinnati led the auditor to investigate practices statewide.
Several districts said that auditors found nothing irregular during their visits.
In general, auditors are looking for evidence that the withdrawals were legitimate; they’re making sure that if a student was taken off a school’s rolls, there’s proper documentation to explain why.
Schools aren’t supposed to remove a student from their rosters unless the student drops out or goes to another school, and they’re supposed to keep paperwork to back up the action.
In addition to the 100 schools flagged for investigations, auditors were already in 33 schools that are part of a program that allows the state to review financial data quickly at the close of each fiscal year.
On Wednesday, Mr. Yost emailed every Ohio superintendent to request signatures on a waiver that would allow auditors to view student records, which typically are protected by federal law. As of Friday afternoon, 185 districts had signed and returned waivers, said Carrie Bartunek, spokesman for the auditor.
That next phase of the state’s investigation, in which Mr. Yost looks at a greater number of schools to try to spot questionable practices, hasn’t yet begun, Ms. Bartunek said.
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