Eye on Education

Updated: Ohio Schools Found to be “Scrubbing” Student Absentee Data

Schools around the state have been accused of scrubbing student absentee data.

Judy Baxter / flickr

“Scrubbing” refers to the broad practice of fudging data.

In this case, Columbus City School officials have been accused of fudging student absentee data to boost enrollment their enrollment rates, and the superintendent of Toledo Public Schools admitted his district has done something similar to boost test scores.

Some suggest “scrubbing” student absentee data is common around Ohio.

The Columbus Dispatch was the first to point the finger at Columbus City Schools after it filed a public records request and found 2.8 million instances of student absences that were erased over the past five and a half years.

Deleting student absences can affect not just attendance rates, but also test scores and how much financial aid a district receives.

Columbus City Schools spokesman Jeff Warner underscores that the district has not been found to be doing anything wrong – yet – but an investigation by the Ohio auditor’s office is currently underway.

Warner says the district is taking the allegations seriously, and he says, “if we find during the course of the investigation that there are system changes we need to make, we will absolutely make those.”

In addition, last Friday Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Jerome Pecko acknowledged to the Toledo Blade that his school has also fudged student attendance data – this time to boost test scores by retroactively withdrawing chronically truant students to delete their scores from the district aggregate — and then re-enrolling them. Officially, a student is considered chronically truant in the state of Ohio is they miss seven consecutive days of schools, more than ten days in a month, or more than 15 days in a year.

Toledo Board of Education President Lisa Sobecki says she’s not sure what Toledo Public Schools did is even against state rules, “and that’s why we’ve asked the Ohio Department of Education to give us some guidance and give us some clarification within the law, because it’s not clear at all.”

But John Charlton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education says he cannot confirm that anyone from Toledo Public Schools ever contacted the Ohio Department of Education on this subject.

Charlton says there should be no confusion about how to enter absentee data.

“The Ohio Revised Code clearly defines what a withdrawn student is,” he says. “I think if superintendents and school employees follow the revised code they’ll have no problem answering the questions and entering the data properly into our system.”

Charlton says one thing is clear: scrubbing is not OK.

“Basically the Department of Education requires school districts to report timely and accurate data and the Department of Education does not allow school districts to manipulate that data to improve their attendance rate or their test scores,” he says. “So we will not tolerate the inaccurate reporting of data.”

UPDATE: The Ohio Department of Education says they are officially investigating “scrubbing” in Toledo. It’s not clear yet if the State Auditor’s office will join the investigation.



  • Steve Seeskin

    Data scrubbing is not about fudging data. Fudging data is dishonest, immoral and in some cases illegal.

    The correct usage for data scrubbing is as a synonym for data cleansing, which is the very legal and sometimes necessary practice of correcting data errors to bring the level of data quality to an acceptable level for the information user’s needs.

    Why not say, “Data fudging…” instead or “Data scrubbing…”? I believe the former better suits this news story.

    • IdaZL

      Hi Steve,
      I think you touch on something very important. These districts have been using the term “scrubbing” which is legal, while fudging data as you say often is not. They are all under investigation at the moment, so we’ll have to wait and see what the investigations find, but in the mean time thanks for pointing that out, I’ll be keeping an eye on those words in the future.

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