Ohio

Eye on Education

State Auditor Finds Evidence of Attendance Data Scrubbing at Five Districts

Bill Cohen / Ohio Public Radio

Auditor Dave Yost presents the findings in an interim report on attendance data scrubbing in Ohio schools.

Ohio’s Auditor Dave Yost wrapped up the first part of his investigation into attendance fraud in 100 of Ohio’s schools, and found evidence of scrubbing at five of those districts.

There were problems at several other districts, though they weren’t found to be pervasive. Let’s break down the auditor’s report.

SO WHAT DID HE FIND?

Yost determined that there were five districts that had “questionable practices” with regards to their attendance-data reporting. Those districts are Campbell City Schools, Cleveland Municipal Schools, Columbus City Schools, Marion City Schools, and Toledo Public Schools.

Another 28 schools had errors in their attendance data, but according to the report those were “not believed to be pervasive.” That basically just means the errors can be chalked up to human error. The investigation into another 15 buildings isn’t done yet, and 21 buildings were found to have clean data.

WHAT IS DATA SCRUBBING ANYWAY?

Data scrubbing is often used to mean cleaning up data with mistakes and other outliers. That’s a pretty innocent definition of the word. But Yost says his office created a new definition for the sake of this investigation.

“Scrubbing is the practice of removing students from enrollment without lawful reason regardless of the purpose or purported motivation. The term scrubbing does not always imply mal-intent.”

WHAT DID THOSE FIVE SCHOOLS DO WRONG?

Courtesy of the Office of the Auditor of State

During a press conference held earlier today, the auditor was quick to note that while his investigation found data scrubbing at several districts, that does not mean anyone intentionally submitted fraudulent data to boost their school’s or district’s test scores and, subsequently, their report-card grade.

“We did not make any determination regarding motivations,” the auditor said. “We did not answer the question why. And I would submit to you that that’s an unanswerable question as a generality.”

But what the auditor did say was that many of these schools inappropriately “rolled up” students test scores to the state, thereby possibly improving their report card grades.

WHAT’S ROLLING UP?

Rolling up is the bureaucratic term for when a student’s test scores do not count toward determining the overall school building or school district’s state report cards.

A big part of school report cards in Ohio is based on students’ test scores. But not all scores are counted when the state calculates a district’s report card.

For example, a certain number of special education students’ scores are not included in the test scores on which report cards are largely based. Same thing happens if a student misses too many days of school. The idea is that schools shouldn’t be penalized for certain students who may drag the average score down. So, if a student misses too much class time, the school didn’t have the opportunity to educate that student, therefore his or her score shouldn’t count.

According to the auditor’s report, Cleveland City Schools has 19,633 students whose data is rolled up to the state. Chief Deputy Auditor Robert Hinckl says those are students who, because of a break in attendance or some other reason, are “pushed to the state for attendance reporting.”

Of those, 12,235 students took the state tests, but their scores were not included among the scores used to assess the district for the state report card. More 7,000 of those students didn’t even take the state test.

The most common reason student test scores aren’t included in a district’s report card is if a student misses too much school, known formally as withdrawal due to truancy or nonattendance. There are all kinds of rules a student can be considered truant, including how many days they missed.

The auditor pointed out that “without a court order, a child is not truant.”

But, in some districts Yost says he couldn’t find any records showing the local juvenile judge was notified of truant students. For example, some 1,700 students were withdrawn from Cleveland schools in 2010-2011, but according to the Plain Dealer, the local juvenile judge’s office has received no notifications of withdrawals for truancy in the past 10 years.

SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Auditor Yost will continue his investigation into attendance data scrubbing in Ohio’s schools, though he says he won’t investigate all of the state’s 600+ school districts.

Statisticians at Ohio State University have been working with data going back to 1998 to come up with a formula that will help the auditor’s office find districts with “statistically significant anomalies.”

“We will use that info to basically divide out the schools that we think we need to look at versus the ones we’re confident we don’t,” Yost said.

The auditor’s office will prioritize school districts with a levy on the ballot, hoping to wrap up the investigation by Election Day. The auditor says he hopes to complete the full investigation by the new year, though it may take him longer.

As far as any legal action is concerned, the auditor says, “there’s always been the possibility of criminal referrals.”

But, he added that this investigation is “necessary for criminal prosecution, but is not sufficient.”

The report also contains a list of policy recommendations to avoid the possibility of attendance data scrubbing in the future. Yost says part of the problem is that the Ohio Department of Education “relies on the honor system.” The report recommends greater oversight of school and district data on behalf of ODE.

You can read the entire report below.

 

Comments

  • Theresa

    I think you should look into Hopewell Loudon school district also because there is evidence that is provable that shows they don’t accurately log late tardy kids in addition to absences. My child was not marked tardy when she arrived late with three other children last school year. It did not appear in attendance records and when asked why it was not reported the principle stated they on occassion allow them in without passes.

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