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Why Ohio School Attendance Data Probe Shouldn't Be a Huge Surprise

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Sunday, July 29, 2012 at 8:00 PM

amy_b / Flickr

You might have heard about this state investigation into Ohio school administrators altering student attendance records in ways that prevent students who should be counting towards schools’ state report card ratings from actually counting.

The head of the Ohio Department of Education, the state auditor and the governor are saying that if this data manipulation is happening it's horrible and they'll chase wrongdoers to the ends of the Earth. (We paraphrase.)

The thing is, the Cleveland Plain Dealer warned four years ago that this could be happening:

In this era of academic accountability, the test scores of thousands of Ohio public-school students are being left behind... That's because districts are allowed to throw out test scores -- "scrub" them, in testing parlance -- of students who are not continuously enrolled from October through the testing dates in March and May. In everyday parlance, they simply disappear -- at least from the calculations that make up a district report card.

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The Plain Dealer quoted figures from Mitchell Chester's, a former Ohio Department of Education official who's now the top education official in Massachusetts:

  • The test scores of at least 6 percent of Ohio students who took tests in the spring of 2007 were not reflected in final performance data for their districts, which is the information used to determine districts' report-card grades.
  • In Ohio's eight major urban districts, an average of about 15 percent of the scores didn't count towards the districts' state grades.
  • On average, the scores that didn't count were lower than the ones that did.

There's nothing legally wrong with scrubbing done right. (And the Plain Dealer didn't quote anyone saying it wasn't done right.)

But four years ago, the Plain Dealer found "wide variance" in how districts actually followed the rules.

And the superintendent of the Washington Local School District north of Toledo said this week that he and his district colleagues "know" that other school districts still don't follow the rules:

"I have intimated to you over the years that some districts manipulate student data," he wrote [to his board]. "I have always been told about TPS withdrawing and re-enrolling habitual truants. I was certain that they did that and there was always a temptation to do the same due to the fact that it is maddening to be graded on your ability to educate a child who is physically not there."

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