Eye on Education

Columbus Schools Accused of Juking Attendance Records

Salem (MA) Public Library / Flickr

The Columbus Dispatch reports that two state agencies plan to examine Columbus school district student attendance records after allegations it has been “common practice for schools to withdraw and then re-enroll students with poor attendance records so their potentially poor test scores won’t count:”

State report-card rules say schools must count the test scores of students who have been enrolled consecutively for most of the school year. If they have a break in enrollment during that time, however, the scores and attendance rates don’t count against the school.

The Dispatch also notes that Columbus Superintendent Gene Harris says there are “legitimate reasons for retroactively changing student attendance and enrollment information.”

However, a number of schools nationally have fudged attendance figures — or been accused of doing so — in order to get more public funding or improve the appearance of their performance.

For example:

  • Fort Worth: “State officials and the Fort Worth school district are investigating reports that administrators at Arlington Heights High School falsified student attendance records to improve the school’s academic rating.” (August 2010)
  • Baltimore: “Widespread cheating on state assessment tests has been uncovered at two Baltimore elementary schools, state and district officials are expected to announce today … The investigation also found that [some school] attendance records were altered in 2010 to show that more students had come to the school in the days leading up to testing.” (June 2011)
  • St. Louis: “The Missouri auditor’s office is investigating what it calls serious, credible allegations that the St. Louis Public Schools falsified attendance records to get more state money and to appear to comply with the requirements of No Child Left Behind.” (May 2011)
  • Ohio: “Taxpayers pay millions of dollars every month to educate tens of thousands of high school students who rarely or never show up for class, part of a growing trend of high absenteeism at privately operated schools … Ohio, hardest hit by the trend, paid $29.9 million for absent students who were enrolled at 47 of these “dropout recovery” schools during the 2006-2007 school year, the most recent year that complete data are available.” (October 2008)


  • gregmild

    Lame, slanted article Molly. You failed to mention in your first paragraph (or anywhere else) that the agencies are involved at the request of the school district.

    From the Dispatch: “Superintendent Gene Harris asked the state auditor’s office to conduct a special audit of the district’s enrollment data. Also, the Ohio Department of Education said that … after a request for help from the district, it plans to review the accuracy of Columbus’ attendance figures.”

  • Monty

    There is a big scandal on this in El Paso TX where a school district official pleaded guilty to fraud as he manipulated enrollments (mainly keeping kids in grade 9 an extra year, then moving them to gr 11, to avoid the gr 10 tests that count for state and federal accountability). A researcher found two FL districts with big spikes in expulsions and suspensions right before testing. A NYC court found a school district guilty of similar actions. I am by no means saying this is common, but various kinds of cheating are growing as school administrators and teachers respond to irrational testing pressures. The biggest cheating is teaching to the test, which robs kids of an all-around education in order to focus on tests and tested subjects.

  • Jane Doe

    As a counselor,over 9th grade students , I was given a list of students who had chronic absentee problem . I was ask to call the students’ parents to make sure those students were at school daily because it hurts our school attendance. I would check to make sure the students show up for school daily. Sometimes, I would make a trip to the students home on my lunch hour only to find there were doors that were padlock. No one was staying at that address. What are we as a district suppose to do when parents aren’t there and numbers of next of kin isn’t longer working? I made calls after calls to most of the time had success

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