Schools throughout Ohio may be changing student attendance and enrollment data in ways that prevent students who should be counting towards schools’ state ratings from actually counting, Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost wrote in a letter to the president of the state Board of Education today.
The scattered accusations and admissions of changing student data that sparked Yost’s letter shake the foundations of Ohio’s school accountability system. That system relies on student test performance (and attendance and graduation rates) to determine grades for schools and school districts. If the data underlying those measures is bad, then the state grades could lose much of their meaning.
In the letter, Yost announced that his office is undertaking a statewide review of attendance reporting practices. The investigation will include an examination of why the Ohio Department of Education wasn’t aware of any wrongdoing.
If the investigation does find wrongdoing, schools could see their state ratings downgraded, heads could roll at the Department of Education, and some school administrators could face criminal charges. State rating downgrades could have far-reaching consequences because they come into play in state policy on private-school vouchers and closure for low-performing charter schools.
Yost’s letter came in response to Columbus Dispatch reports of allegations of Columbus school district officials changing student enrollment information, admissions from Toledo school officials that they engaged in the practice, and a Department of Education report that the Cincinnati-area Lockland school district had done it too.
Yost wrote in the letter:
In short, it appears that attendance report rigging is not a localized problem with Columbus Public Schools, but that it may be more systemic – and that raises the question of what role ODE played during the time that false reports were made by multiple schools.
Yost wrote that there is “no evidence at this time that anyone at ODE is involved in the attendance report rigging, but the apparently widespread nature of the practice begs the question of at least a lack of oversight.”
In a statement to the Toledo Blade, the Ohio Department of Education said they’re cool with that:
“When it is misused we want the investigation to go wherever it leads,” the statement read. “…As always, we welcome the involvement of the State Auditor and will continue our working relationship with them.”
Ohio Department of Education spokesperson John Charlton said the department is “enhancing the data analysis systems” and checking 2011-12 school year data from every traditional public school and charter school for suspicious changes.
The department has laid off dozens of employees in the past year. However, Charlton said he did not expect the data checking process to delay the public release of schools’ state report cards scheduled for late August.