State denies request for more information on attendance investigation

The Ohio Department of Education has denied the newspaper’s request to see Northridge Local Schools’ official written response to allegations that it scrubbed student attendance data because of the continuing investigation.

The Dayton Daily News filed a public records request seeking a copy of the response that the district had to file this spring along with eight other Ohio districts where the state auditor’s office found evidence of scrubbing data.

ODE Chief Legal Counsel P.R. Casey IV said those responses are protected under the Confidential Law Enforcement Records Exception of the public records law. Northridge Superintendent David Jackson could not be reached for comment.

The newspaper also requested — and received — the corrective action plans submitted to ODE by each of the eight Miami Valley school districts found with “errors” in their student attendance data reporting, including using wrong coding and other clerical errors.

Those districts and number of errors include Hamilton (81), Trotwood-Madison (16), Centerville (11), Dayton Public (11), Jefferson Twp. (6), Springfield (1), West Carrollton (1) and Bradford (1).

Then-acting State Superintendent Michael Sawyers sent letters to Jackson and the eight other superintendents of alleged “scrubbing” districts after the state auditor’s investigation earlier this year found evidence of manipulating attendance data, possibly to improve report card ratings.

In the letter, Sawyers sought official written responses and warned the superintendents of possible sanctions, including the “revocation of state funds and professional conduct sanctions up to and including revocation of educator certification or licensure for any/all persons involved, as applicable.” ODE marked the 2011-12 report ratings for those districts as subject to change and said 2010-11 ratings also could change.

Northridge saw its report card rating climb from “Academic Emergency” in 2001-02 to “Excellent in 2010-11.” The district slipped back to “Effective” on the latest report card.

The ODE did, however, grant the newspaper’s request for copies of corrective action plans submitted by Miami Valley school districts where there were errors reported, but not evidence of scrubbing data.

The plans give a glimpse into what school officials said happened and why, and what changes or training they have since implemented to avoid similar issues in the future.

Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson wrote in his district’s plan an explanation for his district’s 11 errors and said the situation “has caused significant conversation and scrutiny and rigor will be applied when checking and rechecking our lists and reporting codes.”

In one case, the district didn’t use correct coding for a Limited English Proficiency student at Normandy Elementary. While no one could explain why a certain code wasn’t listed, it may have been related to the student enrolling after she had received LEP services while the family was stationed in Germany at a Department of Defense school, Henderson wrote.

He highlighted various changes and staff training the district has put in place, including implementing a new form that has a place for a parent’s signature when a student transfers.

Trotwood-Madison Superintendent Kevin Bell said of his district’s 16 errors, “Most areas were a failure to properly articulate, in writing, what constitutes days of expulsion compared to days of suspension, which was an easily corrected systematic issue.”

Dayton Public Schools and Bradford Exempted Village Schools both pointed out possible errors in the auditor’s findings. Bradford said the auditor wanted certain information about a special education student to be kept in his permanent file but the superintendent wrote, “By law we cannot keep special education files with a student’s permanent files.”

Dayton Public’s report showed that in some cases where students were involved in juvenile detention, ODE automatically removed juvenile detention coded students from certain data. “Errors were not the product of district actions, but rather the outcome of an ODE process after the data was submitted,” part of the district’s corrective action plan said.

Springfield Superintendent David Estrop, whose district had one error, wrote, “We have since developed a detailed paperwork process, a tracking system and very definitive communication network for processing students in that program.”

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