Investigation Finds Ohio Schools ‘Scrubbed’ Student Records

An inspection of the documents from 100 schools around Ohio by State Auditor Dave Yost found instances of systematic “data scrubbing” in at least five districts. According to the report, student attendance data was doctored to improve the district’s end-of-the-year numbers. According to The Columbus Dispatch, since Yost’s report is only preliminary, there is an expectation [...]

An inspection of the documents from 100 schools around Ohio by State Auditor Dave Yost found instances of systematic “data scrubbing” in at least five districts. According to the report, student attendance data was doctored to improve the district’s end-of-the-year numbers.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, since Yost’s report is only preliminary, there is an expectation that additional problems will be uncovered by the time the conclusions are finalized. Currently, doctored records were found in schools in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Marion and Campbell school districts, but as the scope of the investigation expands beyond the original 100 schools in 47 districts, others will likely be added to that list.

Yost has been investigating data manipulation in Ohio’s schools since the issue first came to light due to articles published in The Dispatch in June. The final report is due after the investigation is completed — sometime around January 2013.

Of the 100 schools included in Yost’s first pass, 21 were cleared of any attendance-record problems. The “clean schools” list includes two Hamilton schools in Franklin County and a Circleville elementary school in Pickaway County. Another 28 schools had errors that auditors classified as “less pervasive.” Fifteen schools are labeled “indeterminate” and need more testing.

Each of the ten Columbus-area schools whose records were reviewed by the investigators showed evidence of data tampering, or “scrubbing.” Yost estimated that, in total, schools removed all records of over 300 students to improve their overall showing. Yost added that questions of “why” are outside the scope of his investigation at the moment.

As prevalent as the scrubbing was in Columbus, it was in Cleveland that the most prodigious record manipulations took place. Based on preliminary findings, Yost estimated that the district removed over 20,000 students from their rolls during the course of the 2010-2011 academic year, which adds up to over a third of their student total. This includes 12,000 students who took the state-mandated standardized achievement tests and whose results were never turned over the the Ohio educational authority.

“Based on the information gathered to date, it appears evident that none or virtually none of the student files previously requested will include necessary supporting documentation” showing that Cleveland’s data changes were legitimate, the report says.

Cleveland schools remain under investigation, the outcome of which will be included in a future report, Yost said.

As the investigation progresses, auditors will be focusing on schools that are missing a large number of students who have taken standardized exams. Only students who have both completed a full academic year in a district school and taken assessment tests that need to be reported are used to calculate the school’s score on the annual report card. Withdrawing students whose exam scores were sub-par would be the most straightforward way of fudging that result.

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