Ohio

Eye on Education

Auditor: Criminal Charges Likely In Columbus Schools Data Rigging Investigation

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Bill Owen is chief legal counsel for the Ohio auditor of state. He says it's likely individuals at the Columbus school district will be referred for criminal prosecution.

Columbus school district employees may face criminal charges in connection with unlawfully manipulating student data to make schools’ performance look better, says William Owen, the chief attorney for State Auditor David Yost.

But employees at other school districts being investigated for similar actions are not likely to face criminal charges.

Owen says the investigation into the Columbus school district has been separated from the statewide investigation, and expanded. He says there have also been reports of witness intimidation by the district.

For the past five months, Yost’s office has been investigating whether staff at school districts across Ohio improperly changed student data to make their schools’ performance look better, particularly on state report cards.

The investigation was spurred by a Columbus Dispatch report that the Columbus schools “retroactively alter thousands of student-attendance records at the end of each school year, casting doubt on the accuracy of the district’s state report card.”

In a letter sent to the Columbus school district’s lawyer Thursday, the state auditor’s chief legal counsel explained that the investigation of Columbus, Ohio’s largest school district, has been separated from the auditor’s larger, statewide investigation.

[Read the full exchange between the auditor's office and the district here.]

The reason for the split was “the strong likelihood that at the conclusion of the [Columbus] investigation, individuals will be referred for criminal prosecution,” according to the letter.

The auditor is also investigating student grade-changing, according to the letter:

“Grades are purposely being changed, e.g., from “F” to “D,” with some students unaware they have actually ‘achieved’ a better grade than recorded by their teacher.”

That type of change could result in a student earning credit for a course he or she did not actually pass.

The district has not responded directly to the possibility of criminal charges or the allegations of grade-changing.

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