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Investigation Finds ‘Culture of Data Manipulation’ In Columbus Schools

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 5:00 PM

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Ohio Auditor Dave Yost reveals the results of his office’s special investigation into Columbus City Schools, he illustrates what he describes as a top-down culture of data manipulation and employee intimidation.

“This has been,” said Yost, “one of the most troubling things in the 14 years that I’ve been a public servant that I’ve ever come across.”

As Ohio Auditor Dave Yost reveals the results of his office’s special investigation into Columbus City Schools, he illustrates what he describes as a top-down culture of data manipulation and employee intimidation. Reporting for State Impact Ohio, Statehouse Correspondent Andy Chow reports on Yost’s findings.

The full report claims that major officials have been gaming the system for years in order to improve its ranking. One school administrator was accused of prodding teachers to change F’s to D’s. Yost says there was a more complex operation, starting in 2002, where a top administrator with the district would direct staff to withdraw students then re-enroll them. This way a student’s test score would not be counted to the school’s overall performance.

“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 explained, “And I sincerely and devoutly hope that they will have to answer your questions in a court of law.”

There could be bigger consequences for some of the higher officials, like former Superintendent Gene Harris for example. Yost would not share any details but did say he will send a criminal referral to prosecutors as well as a referral to the Ohio Department of Education for license sanctions. In the end, Yost believes the real victims of the data scrubbing are the students.

“This is a situation where we have a generation of kids in Columbus Schools who—there are members of that generation who were left behind,” said Yost, “Who didn’t get the resources or the attention or the opportunity that they were entitled to and that’s because the adults cheated.”

As far as oversight is concerned, Yost says the Columbus School board could do a better job. He adds that the Ohio Department of Education, which collects these attendance records, mostly operates under the honor system. However, Yost says the department is working on developing better reporting procedures.

Republican Representative Gerald Stebelton from Lancaster is the chairman for the House Education committee. He says he wants to take a close look at the auditor’s report and decide whether legislative action is needed. He adds that he finds the results concerning when added to previous data problems in other school districts.

“This is a big issue,” said Stebelton, “A huge issue perhaps more important than anything else we do in education in this state this year or next year too.”

Soon after the report was released, Columbus City Schools announced that several administrators would be fired for their role in changing data.

Andy Chow at the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau. 

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Courts/Crime - Fire/Law Enforcement, Education

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