TOLEDO, OH (Toledo News Now) - More than 30 schools across the state, including one in northwest Ohio, are accused of changing the facts in order to boost their state report card and funding. On Thursday, the state auditor released an interim report about the findings.
At least one school in Toledo is accused of "scrubbing" records, which is the process of removing students from enrollment without lawful reason.
State Auditor Dave Yost's report shows over the last decade, schools in Toledo were found to have "rolled up" certain students scores. This in turn likely raised the school or district's report card from the state. Many of the findings in Toledo stemmed from interviews with school employees.
In the initial phase of the audit, the Auditor of State's office selected 100 schools from 47 school districts with the highest number of students that took assessment tests and whose test scores were subsequently rolled up to the state, thereby alleviating the district from accountability for student performance.
Five school districts identified in the report were found to have improperly withdrawn students from their enrollment:
-Campbell City School District (Mahoning County)
-Cleveland Municipal City School District (Cuyahoga County)
-Columbus City School District (Franklin County)
-Marion City School District (Marion County)
-Toledo Public School District (Lucas County)
Of the initial 100 tested, 21 school buildings in 20 districts have zero attendance issues identified to date, and are considered to be "clean." On the other hand, 28 school buildings in 17 districts had errors in attendance reporting that are not believed to be pervasive. The testing of 15 buildings in six school districts is not complete yet, and are declared "indeterminate" at this time.
Also in the first phase, an additional 28 school districts with lower withdrawal rates were tested. Of those districts, 19 are considered "clean" with no issues to date. Nine were found to have errors in reporting, but the errors are not believed to be pervasive.
Yost said the findings do not necessarily mean there was mal-intent to manipulate data.
"Toledo was pretty upfront about this. It was their impression that they were allowed to do this. So Toledo is one of the school districts [where] we believe scrubbing did go on," explained Yost.
TPS calls it an honest mistake. The administration had a procedure in place dealing with truant students that may not have been consistent with state standards. It was called the 5 and 20 rule. At the end of the year when going through data, if a student was truant for 20 or more days with at least five of them being consecutive, that student would be withdrawn from the school and re-enrolled. That meant their test scores were not reported.
Toledo Superintendent Dr. Jerome Pecko said he did not know the procedure was in place until last June and as soon as he discovered it, he ordered schools to suspend the practice. He then called for legal help to determine if it was allowed.
Yost then launched his own investigation. The statewide audit cost more than $284,000.
The report recommends the Ohio Department of Education improve independence of its accountability measures. It also suggests removing report card performance ratings information from the Secure Data Center, thereby reducing the opportunity to manipulate the outcome of report cards. For certain withdrawal codes in the Education Management Information System, it is recommended that ODE cross-check the timing of student withdrawals and enrollments. This more indepth analysis limits the ability for schools to mistakenly misreport or intentionally scrub students without ODE inquiry.
Yost's audit of attendance practices in Ohio's schools began when results of an internal audit at Columbus City Schools revealed irregular attendance and enrollment practices and similar allegations surfaced at Toledo Public Schools and Lockland City Schools.
According to Pecko, it was not an attempt to rule out low-scoring students from their state report cards, even high-scoring students who met the 5 and 20 rule were withdrawn.
A final report is due at the end of the year or early next year. Yost said he wanted to release the initial findings in time for election season. There is no word yet what the penalties will be if there will be any.
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