The Auditor of State has released his interim report on the school attendance erasures issue.
The first observation from reading this 57 page document, is that very few schools have been completely investigated, and of those that have, little if any wrong doing has been found.
Instead what has been discovered are significant levels of bureaucratic oversights, in many cases excused by the complexity of the system designed by multiple layers of state and federal law.
The practices of Toledo are a good example
After news reports that Columbus CSD altered student attendance data, Toledo CSD publicly announced they too scrubbed attendance data. Toledo CSD officials indicated they understood these practices (i.e., removing students with a high number of absences) to be allowable. AOS met with representatives of Toledo at which time Toledo CSD explained its practice of removing students with five consecutive days of unexcused absences and a total of 20 unexcused absences throughout the school year. Toledo CSD has been using the “5/20” rule for withdrawing students since 2001. However, until 2005, Toledo CSD actively removed these students throughout the school year. In 2005, Toledo CSD lost several high‐level administrators to Cleveland MSD. Toledo CSD subsequently hired new administrators and in 2006 the local report card ratings fell since the “5/20” rule for withdrawing students was no longer in place. After realizing lower report card rankings, Toledo CSD administrators decided to reinstitute the “5/20” rule for withdrawing students in the following school year. However, instead of withdrawing students throughout the school year, Toledo CSD waited until after they received the first report from the Secure Data Center from ODE during the reporting period projecting the district’s report card rankings. Toledo CSD informed AOS that they removed all students that met the 5/20 criteria, regardless of assessment test score results for the affected students. However, AOS is still investigating these claims and will report its results later.
Cleveland's prevalent practices of removing truants also appears to fall into this category of bureaucratic non compliance, rather than "cheating"
Based on the information gathered to date, it appears evident that none or virtually none of the student files previously requested will include necessary supporting documentation related to the attendance event causing the student to be pushed to the State during the 2010‐2011 school year. Additionally, it appears Cleveland MSD potentially removed truant students under code 71 without full completion and documentation of truancy due process.
Again, the auditor has yet to fully complete an investigation of this district, noting "AOS is currently obtaining electronic data in an attempt to determine the impact of Cleveland MSD processes and procedures on accountability reporting and we will report results in a later report."
In Marion, another district the Auditor looked at, again no wrong doing was found
During the course of testing, AOS noted numerous instances of students being automatically transferred to the Marion Digital Academy during the 2010‐11 school year. As such, these students were included on the list of those students being pushed to the State and excluded from District report card results.
AOS identified 46 students transferring to Marion City Digital Academy during the 2010‐2011 school year with no parent or guardian initiation or approval included in Marion CSD’s student files.
Just more bureaucratic mis-steps. And more in Campbell City Schools
AOS tested Memorial High and Campbell Middle Schools at Campbell CSD (Mahoning County), identifying 11 (High School) and 29 (Middle School) students, respectively, that did not have supporting documentation available in the student files to support breaks in enrollment related to the following withdrawal reasons: Verified Medical, Truancy, Expulsion, and Homeschool.
And once again the Auditor notes, "AOS is continuing to investigate these retroactive withdrawals and will report further results later."
Forgive us for being unimpressed both with the how these interim findings are not matching up with a lot of the breathless allegations of "cheating" claimed by some in the media, and also by the sloth like progress being made by the Auditor of state.
It appears that the vast number of attendance erasures might in fact be legitimate, but simply not supported by documentation, as districts had poor policies and procedures in place to record and store the documentation. Furthermore, ODE, despite it's claims to the contrary have not been clear on what is required
The results of our statewide assessment indicate that there are a number of areas requiring centralized, improved ODE guidance and immediate clarification. ODE should use this report as a management tool to identify critical Accountability systems and weaknesses requiring enhancement to aid Ohio schools in Accountability determinations and reporting.
The Auditors list of recommendations is replete with calls for legislative changes, indicating that the current system is inadequate, and not the fault of districts
To strengthen and foster consistency in the reporting of approved homeschooling, ODE should consider requesting the General Assembly to amend the authorities and powers of ESC’s to approve homeschooling for all Ohio school districts, including city and exempt village districts.
The General Assembly should provide authority for ODE to collect personally identifiable information, such as student names, to enable ODE to work cooperatively with the Ohio Juvenile Court system and DYS tracking and reporting truant students.
The General Assembly should establish a single statewide student information system so that all data is uniform, uniformly reported, and accessible for data mining. Alternatively if such is not feasible the General Assembly should require ODE to approve the Student Information System used by each district in the state to ensure it meets requirements.
EMIS monitoring functions should be performed by an independent agency or commission appointed by the General Assembly.
Not mentioned anywhere in this report - how any of this has adversely affected student education. Neither does the Auditor indicate what the cost might be both to districts and to the state if full compliance and his recommendations were implemented.
Acting State Superintendent Sawyer just released the following statement
As anticipated from our communication yesterday, here is a link to the Auditor of State’s Interim Report on Student Attendance Data and the Accountability System released this morning. The report also is available here on our Quick Links page. We are pleased that the report shows that most districts visited to date by the auditor’s staff are compliant with legal and reporting requirements. However, as the report indicates, the investigation is ongoing and the Auditor’s Office will continue to review attendance data for all schools. Regardless of your participation to date in the ongoing investigation, I encourage you to read the interim report to reinforce the attendance policies, administrative guidelines and reporting requirements required by your school or district.
Next Monday during their regularly scheduled meeting, the State Board of Education will hear a report from the Auditor of State’s Office, which will result in discussion related to the impact of the interim report findings and the Local Report Cards. I will update you next week on the status of the Local Report Cards and access to the Secure Data Center.
Michael L. Sawyers
Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction
Final Interim ADM Report 10052012