Much like Olympic athletes caught doping whose gold medals are rescinded, the Ohio Department of Education says schools caught rigging their attendance data could see their report card grades drop retroactively.
John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, says, “one of the things that ODE has said already and is willing to do is look backwards at data submitted in previous years and if we do that and find the data was manipulated then we can go back and lower report card data from previous years.”
Part of the reason school districts go back and delete the records of students they say are chronically absent is to eliminate those students’ test scores. Another is to boost their attendance records. Both are key elements in how districts are evaluated by the state, so schools that have been fudging their attendance could have artificially boosted their overall grades.
The Ohio Department of Education recently wrapped up a year long investigation into Lockland City Schools, near Cincinnati, and has made several changes to the district’s report card.
The ODE investigation concluded that 36 students were improperly reported to the state as having left the Lockland School District. The students were added back to the district’s official roster after a short period of time. The break in enrollment led to their test scores not being counted.
ODE has added those students into Lockland’s 2011 report card calculations, which resulted in:
- The district rating dropping from “Effective” to “Continuous Improvement” and the district no longer being rated as meeting the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standard. Lockland is now labeled as an “At-Risk” district.
- The rating for Lockland Elementary School dropping from “Continuous Improvement” to “Academic Watch.” The school is no longer rated as meeting the federal AYP standards and is now labeled as an “At-Risk” school.
- The creation of a report card for the Arlington Heights Academy, which previously did not have enough reported students to generate a rating. The school is now rated “Continuous Improvement.”
- A reduction in the Performance Index scores and number of state indicators met for Lockland High School and Lockland Middle School. Their school report card ratings are unchanged.
Now Columbus and Toledo Public Schools are under investigation for similar data manipulation. Charlton says if they’re found to be guilty, they, too, will see their report card grades amended.
But those districts might just be the tip of the iceberg. The state auditor’s office believes there could be many schools around the state guilty of the same kind of data fudging, which is why State Auditor Dave Yost has requested the attendance records for all Ohio schools from the Department of Education.
The Auditor has also asked the Department of Education to step out of any of those investigations, suggesting that the department might be at fault for some of the data rigging, at least through a lack of oversight.
Charlton vehemently denies any intentional wrongdoing by the Department of Education, but concedes that a lack of oversight or lax regulations may have played a role.
“The Department of Education believes in the integrity of data; we don’t want it to be misused or misrepresented by school districts. Whatever it is we’re going to investigate, and wherever the investigation goes, that’s where we want it to go,” says Charlton. “We certainly welcome the help of the auditor’s office and anything they can do to help us investigate the school districts that might be putting in incorrect data. Anything they can do to help us improve our system, we certainly welcome that.”