Ohio delays release of school district report cards

In an unprecedented move, the State Board of Education on Monday voted unanimously to postpone the release of 2011-2012 Ohio school report cards until questions are answered about the accuracy of attendance data reported by local school districts.

The annual report card release had been slated for Aug. 29 but Acting Superintendent Michael Sawyers recommended it be delayed because of the state auditor’s ongoing investigation into alleged irregularities in reporting student attendance in some districts, including Columbus and Toledo.

The delay also means the new Performance Index rankings for each district, charter school and STEM school will not be released on Sept. 1.

Ohio Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said the state board will revisit the issue when it meets on Sept. 10-11, but it’s unclear when the data may be released.

“The report cards are intended to give an accurate picture of how well schools are doing and they shouldn’t be released with a cloud hanging over their reliability,” Sawyer said. “Auditor (Dave) Yost is expected to release his findings later in the fall and until those findings are out and any problems corrected, it would be irresponsible to issue report cards.”

Sawyer replaced state Superintendent Stan Heffner, who retired Aug. 4 amid allegations of ethics violations. The state board on Monday launched a national search for a new state superintendent.

Miami Valley school leaders gave mixed reaction to the report cards being delayed.

“We, like other districts, are awaiting the state’s release of the report cards and understand their need that the information accurately reflects the progress of the districts,” Hamilton City Schools Superintendent Janet Baker said.

Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop said the delay nearly caused the district to have difficulty hiring 50 new employees because that federal funding is tied to the results of the district’s annual report card.

“We had to shift some money around pretty quickly,” he said. “The good news is we got it done before school opened (Wednesday).”

An agreement between ODE and the Springfield district allows it to fill those 50 positions. It will use the “20 percent set aside” – federal funds dedicated to interventions for struggling students – to pay the salaries of 41 tutors and nine academic coaches for the beginning of the school year.

The district previously said they would be unable to hire those employees because they planned to use a type of Title 1 grant money called Priority and Focus Funding that wouldn’t be released until later.

Jeffrey J. Mims Jr. of Dayton was among the 18 state board members who voted unanimously to delay the release of the report cards.

“At this point in time there are a lot of unanswered questions out there about who has done what in reference to the data. We know we have a problem in a sense there are a majority of districts who have done nothing wrong. We want to get it out as quickly as possible,” he said. “But we also felt it was important not to shortchange the investigation process and give out incomplete data.”

Northmont City Schools Superintendent Sarah Zatik said she hopes the data isn’t delayed too long “because we look to that data to improve instruction in setting up the goals for the year.”

School district officials noted they already have preliminary report card data from ODE. Some trust it enough to share it publicly, while others are reluctant because it’s not official.

Zatik said Northmont should at least have an “Excellent” rating because it passed all 26 state indicators in several areas including test scores, attendance and graduation rates. Northmont officials are just waiting on the “value-added” scores that indicate student growth in a year to see if that will bump the district to “Excellent with Distinction” again.

But Estrop, whose district was “Effective” on last year’s report card, said he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing the preliminary results from this year’s report card for Springfield because his past experience is that they can be “so sketchy, I’m not going to make a public guess.”

It’s the first time many superintendents haven’t had the official data by the start of school so they’re unable to layout strategies for this new school year.

“It’s kind of like starting a new ball game when the old one isn’t over yet,” Estrop said.

The state board agreed its executive committee will launch a nationwide search for a new superintendent. The board also confirmed that Sawyers will continue to serve as acting superintendent under the terms of a succession plan that went into effect when Heffner retired.

A report by the state inspector general found Heffner was on the payroll of a Texas-based testing firm when he lobbied state lawmakers last year on a bill that benefited the company. The report also found Heffner misused his state email, cellphone and staff to pursue the testing job.

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