The state’s investigation into possible data scrubbing at nine Ohio school districts has put the spotlight on questionable record keeping practices. Employees in six districts have been referred to the Ohio Department of Education for discipline for their role in mishandling data that may have distorted their district’s performance on the state report card.
So what do the largest school districts involved say they’re doing differently now?
“What’s changed is there’s heightened attention to being scrupulous about student data,” says Janet Walsh, a spokesperson for the Cincinnati Schools.
The state found problems with 130 attendance records there.
Walsh says Cincinnati’s biggest issue was the way it handled students who transferred between schools within the district. In the past, officials would withdraw students from the rolls that seemingly disappeared from CPS for weeks at a time, only to show up months later at another district school. Now, Walsh says the district will mark those students as having been continuously enrolled.
Keeping track of students who frequently move from place to place is a common problem in large urban districts and has plagued the Cleveland Schools for years.
District CEO Eric Gordon says Cleveland’s mobile population was only part of the reason the state found 3500 students improperly withdrawn from its records.
“I have no evidence that anybody was intentionally doing wrong. We just had a systems issue where we had people hand entering data into a database and not keeping a paper trail behind it, therefore making the database in-auditable,” he says.
Gordon says since the investigation began, the district has made a number of changes.
“Now, when a student or a family withdraws, it is scanned electronically into our data system and then filed at the school level,” Gordon says.
Roseann Canfora, a spokesperson for the district, adds that the appropriate staff have been retrained on how to use the electronic attendance system, also known as EMIS. And the district will keep a paper trail of any students who have enrolled, re-enrolled, or transferred from one school to another within the district.
While Canfora admits Cleveland had a lot of clean up to do, she points to ODE and says its rules about when to withdraw students have been unclear.
But John Charlton, a spokesperson for ODE, disputes that. He says if 605 school districts around the state could figure out and follow the rules, then the nine involved in the investigation have no excuse.
And Charlton says ODE has made changes too, including:
- Updating its EMIS (Education Management Information System) to make it easier for districts to enter data, and revised the user manual
- Increased training for district staff who enter data into EMIS
- Increased checks and balances in the system, complete with red flags that will trigger a phone call to the district when something seems fishy
- Producing a new statewide report of student id numbers that flags when a student shows up twice in different schools
School officials in Toledo have not yet returned calls about the changes they’ve made.
Stay tuned for more details about the Columbus Schools audit on Jan 27th.