Schools accused of faking data

Ohio Department of Education officials said they will review data submitted by all school districts and charter schools to look for potential red flags on whether they may be manipulating attendance or graduation data to improve their report card performance.

The department on Wednesday lowered last year’s report card rating for Lockland School District in Hamilton County from “Effective” to “Continuous Improvement” after an investigation found it falsely reported withdrawing 36 students during the school year to boost the district’s state test results.

ODE also is investigating Columbus and Toledo city school districts after the Columbus Dispatch reported allegations that the districts may have scrubbed attendance records to improve their report card numbers.

ODE spokesman John Charlton said Wednesday that no Dayton area school districts are under investigation but noted that all Ohio school districts and charter schools will have their data reviewed.

“There is a distinct possibility that we will also take a look back in time to verify that school districts have been submitting data accurately,” he said.

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The review includes data that would appear on the new report cards slated for release in late August, Charlton said.

State law defines truancy and requires school officials to investigate truancy cases but allows local school districts to decide how and when students are struck from the rolls.

Lawmakers faced this challenge in May, when they attempted to exclude test scores of “chronic truants” from teacher evaluations. The language was dropped after lawmakers realized districts differ in their truancy policies.

The Ohio Education Association lobbied for the change, saying educators shouldn’t be evaluated for students they never get the opportunity to teach.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Kettering Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the situation is concerning and could require a change in statute if schools are withdrawing and re-enrolling truly truant students.

If schools are doctoring records to better their report card grades, Lehner said, then the real problem is how to change the grading system so it’s used to encourage improvement instead of to punish.

“When we cheat on something like this, the people who are really being cheated are our kids because we aren’t getting a clear picture of the learning environment,” Lehner said.

Shelia Burton, Dayton Public Schools’ director of assessment and accountability, said the district has not altered its attendance data to more favorably impact report card results.

West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford said he wouldn’t comment on what other districts that are under investigation by the state may have done, but he has “no problem whatsoever” with the education department reviewing all student data submitted by districts and charters.

Clifford said he thinks the process of collecting and reporting the data to the state is very clear.

“I don’t think there is anything ambiguous about what the state has said about how we do what we do,” Clifford said. “They’ve been doing this long enough that they know they can’t put something out that leaves room for multiple interpretations.”

The Lockland case has been referred to ODE’s Office of Professional Conduct to determine if an additional investigation should be opened into whether that district’s employees participated in conduct unbecoming the teaching profession.

“Upholding the integrity and accuracy of Ohio’s education accountability system is essential to ensuring the trust of parents, the public and taxpayers,” State Superintendent Stan Heffner said in a news release. “Dishonest actions that may inflate results are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The ODE investigation found 36 students were improperly reported to the state as having left the Lockland district. The students were added back to the district’s official roster after a short period of time. The break in enrollment led to their test scores not being counted, according to state education officials.

ODE has added those students into Lockland’s 2011 report card calculations, which also resulted in the district no longer being rated as meeting the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standard. Lockland is now labeled as an “At-Risk” district.

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