Ohio

Eye on Education

Why It Matters That Ohio’s Biggest Urban School Districts Fudge Their Figures

Katherine Clark / Flickr

Some of Ohio’s largest urban school districts routinely manipulated student attendance data, Ohio newspapers are reporting.

Districts have erased records of student absences and kept the poor performance of some students’ on state tests from counting towards school report card grades.

That’s a big deal because student attendance rates and test scores–particularly test scores–are a big part of how the state and the federal government judge schools. (Where else do you think those school report card grades and state rankings come from?)

But some school leaders say it’s not clear there’s anything wrong with the practice.

Here’s what Toledo Superintendent Jerome Pecko told the Toledo Blade:

“Whether or not it is something that will, in the end, be endorsed by the people in Columbus, we just don’t know. Absent that endorsement, I just don’t feel comfortable to continue to do it, so we have stopped it so this particular report card is going to be a clean report card.”

The story started earlier this year when the Columbus Dispatch reported the Columbus schools routinely manipulated student attendance data:

Columbus City Schools officials wiped 2.8 million student absence days off the district’s computers during the past 51/2 school years, with some key officials responsible for tens of thousands of deletions.

Columbus released the information about attendance records in response to a Dispatch public records request. But Superintendent Gene Harris has not explained the number of changes made or said district staff did anything wrong.

Pecko, the Toledo superintendent, told the Toledo Blade last week that the Toledo schools “manipulated some students’ attendance data to improve state report-card scores:”

[Superintendent Jerome] Pecko said the review discovered that students who fall within the statutory definition of “habitual truancy” are not included in the scores tabulations on building and district annual report cards.

The Blade goes on to suggest that former Toledo Superintendent Eugene Sanders used similar “scrubbing” techniques to boost the district’s rating, and continued to do so when he moved on to lead the Cleveland school district:

The Cleveland school district also came under scrutiny for “scrubbing” students in 2008, two years after Mr. Sanders took over as that school system’s chief executive.

Cleveland dropped and re-enrolled 1,999 students during the 2006-07 school year and 2,104 in 2007-08 year, after having done that with just 1,137 students in 2005-06, the school year before Mr. Sanders left Toledo to take the reins there… Mr. Sanders could not be reached for comment.

Nationally, other districts have adjusted student attendance records to increase their public funding or improve the appearance of their performance.

As of today, the Ohio Department of Education has not made a public statement about whether what Columbus and Toledo have done is wrong. The department and the state auditor are, however, investigating.

Update, 7/23, 5:15 p.m.: Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton says the department “does not allow school districts to manipulate that data to improve their attendance rate or their test scores.” He did not say whether the department believed any particular district had manipulated data.

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