Ohio district played ‘fast and loose’ with data

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Columbus city schools played “fast and loose” with attendance data, grade changes and other records and documentation, according to a report released Tuesday by Ohio’s auditor.

Auditor Dave Yost said his office’s investigation into attendance data scrubbing in the state’s largest school district showed an environment of changing the numbers and a lack of oversight by its board of education.

District employees have been accused of altering attendance records for struggling students to improve performance ratings, which can be used to determine government funding and employee bonuses.

The 18-month investigation covered the 2010-11 school year, and Yost said the district has since made some changes.

The Columbus school district planned to respond to Yost’s report at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Yost said the record-keeping at the schools went beyond a paperwork problem.

Investigators reviewed of a sample of 200 letter grade changes and found that 83.5 percent did not have documentation to support the grade shift. Yost said the grade-change evidence obtained from one high school would be forwarded to the city attorney, Franklin County prosecutor and the U. S. attorney’s office for consideration.

“This represents really a failure to document and to record the things that are most important to a child’s progress through the educational system,” Yost said, noting that the documents involved whether a student has passed a course and sat in the classroom.

Other data indicated that 374 students were withdrawn and re-enrolled on the same day, the report said. The office looked at 106 of those student files and found that the district could provide documentation to support only two withdrawals and no records to back the re-enrollments.

Asked about the motivations of district officials to change data, Yost told reporters: “Well, because they wanted to look good. They wanted their performance measurements to look better than they did. They wanted to avoid the consequences that come from not doing a good job.”

Yost said the district lacked a way to sufficiently report its performance to the board of education that governs it. He said that helped create a culture where administrators “felt free to play fast and loose with the data, to take actions that were contrary to Ohio law and contrary to the policies of the district itself.”

Yost’s review of Columbus was spun from a broader review he conducted last year that identified more than 70 Ohio schools or districts that made attendance reporting errors and a handful that scrubbed.

For the Columbus investigation, he said his staff interviewed more than 40 principals and assistant principals, 230 teachers, 20 secretaries and other office personnel, and 25 current and former workers at the district’s data center. His office has billed the district for more than $115,000 for the hours it’s spent working on the audit.

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