Ohio Auditor Dave Yost has added four more school districts to the list of those that are believed to have scrubbed data to make their schools look better on state reports. And as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, Yost is issuing recommendations that he thinks will prevent a repeat of this scandal.
State Auditor Dave Yost says a lot of work has gone into the statewide audit of school attendance data since problems were identified in several major school districts last summer.
Yost: "More than 260 auditors have worked on it, spent 10807 hours and that’s just billable hours so it doesn’t include our management team, the investigators, the design work or the work of our friends from OSU. The cost has been 443,000 dollars and we looked at 331 individual schools in 137 districts."
And Yost says he’s found four additional districts…..Canton City Schools, Cincinnati City Schools, Northridge Local Schools and Winton Woods City Schools….also doctored their data to make it look better than it actually was. Already this past year, problems were discovered in Campbell, Cleveland Marion, Toledo and Columbus.
And Yost says the problems in Columbus go deeper than in the rest of the state.
Yost: "Not only was attendance being scrubbed but grades were being changed without any proper basis. And we have discovered evidence that indicates an intent to deceive both ODE and parents of this district."
Yost says investigators are looking further into problems with Columbus Schools, and he says criminal referrals could be made in the future in that case. Yost says he wants to make sure problems like the ones that have been uncovered in the nine school districts won’t happen again. So he’s making some recommendations.
Yost: "We need to increase the training that’s done. There’s no training that’s required at the state level on Emus, which is the system where attendance information is sent to the Ohio Department of Education. We also need better automation and security for the assessment testing."
And Yost says he wants Ohio lawmakers to take action to change some things.
Yost: "The Ohio Department of Education is not allowed to know the names of the kids in the schools in Ohio. They actually contract with an outside vendor who runs a duplicate data warehouse. Now that vendor knows who the kids are and creates an ssid, an individual number for each student. So ODE, when we went in, had no idea who these kids were. They were just a number. This not only leads to duplication of costs….one that has just names in it and the other just numbers. But it also creates some other issues. It’s difficult for the department to monitor the attendance as it relates to individual kids. It’s difficult to verify the data."
Yost also wants to change the practice now known as count week. That’s the week that schools throughout the state traditionally count their students for the entire year. Yost says schools have developed incentives…pizza parties, spirit week, pajama days….things that entice the maximum number of students to attend during that week. Yost wants to change that system….allowing multiple attendance counts throughout the year.
Yost: "What we are suggesting is that money more or less follow those kids in real time so that each day, there’s an incentive to keep the kids in school."
The Ohio Department of Education’s John Charlton says most school districts are reporting correct data as required.
Charlton: "We are talking about almost a thousand school districts and only nine of them were unable to follow the rules."
Charlton rejects the notion that the department doesn’t provide enough oversight. He says the department is accountable and has discovered problems on its own in the past.
Charlton: "The Department of Education has never been designed as a watchdog agency. We are an agency that collects information and shares reports. If we need to be more aggressive and we know we need to be more aggressive with some checks, we can make those changes."
Charlton says his department will give serious consideration to every recommendation made by Auditor Yost and make those changes that are feasible. He likes the idea of changing law to give the department student names and additional information to validate data.
Charlton: "It would be an excellent thing in our opinion."