Ohio Audit Questions Virtual Charter’s Attendance Records

(Photo: Ilya Pavlov, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Ilya Pavlov, Creative Commons)

Ohio Department of Education auditors are putting into question the recorded attendance at the largest online school in the state.

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, ECOT, is just the latest in a string of online schools being questioned as to whether students who enroll are actually putting in the 920 hours of classroom time that is required of them each year. Because it is a major deciding factor in terms of how much state money a school receives, charter school attendance is audited at least every five years.

While the first audit of the school performed by the state, which looked at a total of 750 student files, found some of the attendance tracking to have been done correctly, including student engagement logins for both beginning and end days for enrollment, a number of issues were also found. A follow-up review is expected to be completed in mid-June, writes Jim Siegel for The Columbus Dispatch.

"Most login times from these files did not substantiate 5 hours per day of login time for the students reviewed," said the letter from Area Coordinator John Wilhelm to ECOT Superintendent Rick Teeters.

Wilhelm added that although ECOT staff members said there were additional ways for student times to be recorded, the documents were not ready to be perused by reviewers during the initial audit.

In addition, the first review suggested that student attendance records at the school were different from those held by the state's education data collection system.

"There must be a log-in, but that cannot be the only proof of attendance," Wilhelm wrote. "ECOT is encouraged to develop a system of tracking total hours of student participation."

Tracking attendance at online schools is a bit more difficult than at traditional schools where students are physically in the building. Questions have continuously come up concerning the best way for online schools to be sure that students are in fact logging on and doing their classwork rather than merely logging on and doing some other activity unrelated to school, writes Motoko Rich for The New York Times.

According to Neil Clark, a spokesman for ECOT, school officials are hard at work putting together a response to the audit. Clark added that it was too early to comment on the situation.

He went on to say that ECOT has joined other e-schools in participating in a work group that is reviewing the attendance review manual used by the state Department of Education.

The Department of Education began to take a detailed look at online attendance after it found out Provost Academy, an online charter school, said it would be returning $800,000 of the $1 million it had received in state aid during the 2014-15 school year. The school had not correctly tracked attendance and had noted in its handbook that students were only required to log on for 60 minutes per day in order to receive credit for a full day's attendance, although the state requires 300 minutes.

In all, around $275 million of taxpayer money is used for the education of close to 39,000 students at online charter schools in the state of Ohio.

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