School district’s report card rating, federal funding at risk

A state investigation found Northridge had evidence of scrubbing attendance records

The state auditor on Tuesday presented his report on the statewide attendance investigation to the State Board of Education to determine whether adjustments should be made to the report card ratings of Northridge Local Schools and eight other districts where evidence of data scrubbing occurred.

Northridge was the only Miami Valley school district found to have improperly removed students from its attendance rolls, according to a final report Ohio Auditor Dave Yost released Monday.

Enrolled students’ test scores are used to calculate annual school building and district report card ratings released by the Ohio Department of Education.

The Montgomery County school district saw its report card ratings climb from “Academic Emergency” in 2001-02 to “Excellent” in 2010-11. That’s the equivalent of moving from an F to A letter grade.

The district slipped back to “Effective,” or a B, on the most recent 2011-12 report card. The auditor’s office reviewed 2010-11 attendance data in the investigation into tampering with data to possibly improve report card ratings.

ODE spokesman John Charlton said Tuesday, “The ball is back in our court to continue the investigation into those schools to determine whether we need to recalculate their scores and how that would adjust overall rankings and things of that nature.”

Northridge Superintendent Dave Jackson could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

He released a written statement Monday saying he was concerned with the auditor’s findings and is waiting on specific findings.

Yost also forwarded the report to the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General. Marnie Carlisle, assistant chief deputy auditor in Yost’s office, said federal funding could be in jeopardy for the nine districts where evidence showed scrubbing occurred.

The state report cards were driven by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, she noted.

“By scrubbing student attendance, they are violating No Child Left Behind, which could impact their Title I funding,” which is used to improve the educational opportunities for poor students.

Other federal funding, including dollars for special education and Race to the Top money, also could be at risk, Carlisle said.

According to the final audit, Northridge officials did not have documentation to explain transfers, expulsions and other breaks in enrollment for 43 students at Northridge High School and 16 students at Esther Dennis Middle School.

Nineteen of the records cited at Northridge High School had withdrawal forms on file, with notes to reenroll those students. Twenty-three of the 59 total exceptions were coded as being withdrawn to homeschooling. The Montgomery County Educational Service Center needs to approve all homeschooling requests, but none of those 23 reportedly made it on the approval list and were entered retroactively. The eight other districts with evidence of scrubbing are Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Marion, Winton Woods in Hamilton County and Campbell City Schools in Mahoning County.

Auditor’s office spokeswoman Carrie Bartunek said Yost also referred to the ODE more than 70 schools or districts where state auditors identified “errors” in attendance reporting. While the final report said “auditors did not conclude that these errors were evidence of scrubbing,” Bartunek said it will be up to ODE to determine what to do with the information.

Some schools had only one or two errors, but others had dozens, including Hamilton City Schools with 81 errors.

Other area school districts with errors included Trotwood-Madison (16) , Centerville (11), Dayton Public (11), Jefferson Twp. Local (6), and Springfield, Bradford and West Carrollton (1 each).

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