The state auditor today criticized both the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and a handful of school districts in an interim report. The report, which will be finalized in the coming months as the investigation is completed, gave some early findings for the ongoing investigation into attendance scrubbing, the practice of “removing students from enrollment without lawful reason.”
Dave Yost, Ohio’s state auditor, has been investigating claims that schools are scrubbing attendance data for better results in Ohio’s school report card, which grades schools and school districts around the state. The grading process helps establish policies for different schools, such as funding needs and whether they require local or state intervention.
The early results of the investigation, which began after Lockland Schools in Hamilton County was caught reporting fraudulent data, found a fundamental conflict of interest in a system in which schools are “on the honor system” to report their own data.
“The current system relies upon local schools and school districts — but these are the very entities that are interested in the outcome of the accountability measures,” the report said, before labeling the setup “a classic conflict of interest.”
The report advised the state government to reform ODE to introduce “independent oversight.” Specifically, Yost asked for oversight to be transferred to “an independent agency or commission appointed by the General Assembly” instead of relying on schools to be honest. This oversight should be conducted throughout the year, not just at the end of the school year like it's done today, according to the report.
The state auditor’s report also asked ODE to develop better methods for tracking students. In particular, the report suggested using SSIDs — ID numbers that are given to students in the Ohio’s school database — to track all withdrawals and transfers for students.
But those were only a few of the many suggestions. The report laid out other proposals: Set clear attendance rules for school boards, provide due process to students being kicked out for poor attendance, require stricter attendance records at each school, stop providing school report card data early, create a centralized source or manual for accountability resources and establish a statewide student information system with clearer uniform rules and standards.
John Charlton, spokesperson for ODE, says the state will look into enforcing “additional safeguards.” He says ODE already “upgraded” EMIS, which is the system used by schools to report data, this year, but more is coming.
“We’ve been cooperative with the auditor’s office, and we’ve established a productive working relationship about his inquiry,” he says. “We’ll take the input that’s provided from the auditor’s office into consideration when we make upgrades for next year’s (EMIS) manual.”
But the report did not just blame ODE and the state government for failures. It also singled out a few school districts with evidence of school scrubbing. Columbus City School District, Toledo City School District, Cleveland Municipal School District, Marion City School District and Campbell City School District were the main offenders. Other school districts were found to have errors but no scrubbing.
“We’re actually encouraged but not surprised that this interim report shows that most Ohio schools and districts that have been visited to date have been following the rules for reporting data to the state,” Charlton says.
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) was partially investigated as part of the auditor's interim report, but results for CPS were found to be “indeterminate” as the school district finishes gathering all its data.
The full report can be read here.