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Inside the Ohio School Data-Rigging Investigation

Background

In late June 2012, Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost began 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 auditor’s office is also looking at what role the Ohio Department of Education played in any improper data maniupation.

In October 2012, the FBI launched its own investigation.

As of Oct. 23, Yost had found evidence of “scrubbing” in five districts: Campbell (near Youngstown), Cleveland, Columbus, Marion City and Toledo. The Ohio Department of Education also found that the Lockland district near Cincinnati had engaged in scrubbing.

Yost defined scrubbing as “the practice of removing students from enrollment without lawful reason regardless of the purpose or purported motivation.” The auditor notes, “The term scrubbing does not always imply mal-intent.”

However, Yost has said that “interviews have produced evidence of ‘mal-intent’ behind the changing of student data in some school districts,” the Columbus Dispatch reports. The Dispatch reports that Yost has also said that ”it’s a reasonable conclusion that data was manipulated in Columbus public schools.”

How Common Is It?

Yost initially suggested that what he called “attendance report rigging” might be a systemic problem in Ohio. But in September 2012, he said most schools appear to be following the rules:

“We don’t have any belief that even most schools are involved with this,” he said, but his investigation to date has shown many different ways in which schools have manipulated their attendance data.

Yost also said that any data that was “bad,” or improperly manipulated, in 2011-12 was probably bad in previous years too.

Background

The auditor’s investigation came as a result of a Columbus Dispatch story that reported 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.”

The Toledo school district superintendent subsequently told the Toledo Blade that the district had manipulated some students’ attendance data to improve its state report card performance.

And in July, the Ohio Department of Education said that officials in the 600-student Lockland school district near Cincinnati “falsely reported 36 students as withdrawn during the school year, thereby removing them from the district’s state testing results.” After discovering the withdrawals, the department lowered he Lockland district’s state grade from a “B” to a “C.”

The existence of data manipulation isn’t a new thing: In 2008, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the test scores of thousands of Ohio public-school students were removed from the calculations that make up districts report cards.

School Report Cards

The Ohio Department of Education delayed the release of 2012 school and district report cards due to the the state auditor’s investigation. The department released report cards for traditional public and charter schools and school districts in October, about two months after the report cards’ originally scheduled release.

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