COLUMBUS Schools in five districts statewide, including one in Mahoning County, improperly withdrew students from their rolls, likely improving scores reported to the state in the process, according to a report released Thursday by state Auditor Dave Yost.
Memorial High and Campbell Middle schools, along with 34 other schools in districts in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Marion, did not have proper documentation, failed to file truancy claims with courts or otherwise fell short of requirements for dropping students from their ranks, the audits found.
We do not always get the truth about whats going on with our kids from the grade cards, from the reporting system, Yost told reporters during a press conference near the Statehouse. And we need to do a better job. There needs to be better accountability, so we can measure how well were doing and the progress were making educating our kids.
The auditor reviewed records from 100 schools in 47 districts as part of the first phase of an investigation of attendance practices after irregularities were noted in Columbus city schools, with allegations of scrubbing to improve test results.
Schools are allowed to withdraw students for a number of reasons, including transferring to another district or private school, being expelled or opting to home school.
Yosts office and others are focused on students withdrawn for truancy or nonattendance without proper documentation and a court involvement. The five districts noted in the report released Thursday didnt meet those requirements.
In Mahoning County, for example, 11 students at Memorial High School and 29 at Campbell Middle School, both part of the Campbell City School District, did not have supporting documentation in student files about their withdrawals.
A further search of electronic records found 32 of 40 student withdrawals were made retroactively in May and June 2011, after student test scores were determined.
Yost stopped well short of categorizing the practices in Campbell, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo or Marion as criminal, saying his office did not determine intent. But he called for the state to institute better accountability and cross-checks of enrollment and withdrawal records sent by school districts to state officials.
Its probably beyond the scope of an audit to make a determination that somebody is padding the stats, Yost said. What we have found is that the withdrawals and the subsequent improvement to the assessment population are being done in appropriately in at least five districts.
He added, Ohios system of accountability and grade cards and attendance relies on the honor system. The local school district sends it up to the state, and thats kind of the way it ends. There needs to be some independence between the management and policy functions that [the Ohio Department of Education] fulfills now and the accountability functions that it has.
Of the other districts that were audited, 28 schools had minor errors in their withdrawal records, including two in Akron City (North High and the Akron Opportunity Center), one in Warrensville Heights (Eastwood Elementary), and four in Youngstown (the University Project Learning Center, P. Ross Berry Middle School, Volney Rogers Junior High and Youngstown East High School).
Twenty-one others were categorized as clean, meaning no errors or improper student scrubbing, including Boys Village in Wooster City Schools, Windham Junior High School in Portage County and Garfield Heights Middle School in Cuyahoga County.
The auditors office did not have enough information to make determinations on 15 schools, including three in Canton (Choices Alternative School, Community Educational Services and Hartford Middle School).
Yost said the audits released Thursday are the first in a series that will be released on attendance scrubbing in coming weeks and months, with details on additional schools and districts.
The auditors office has devoted 6,930 hours and spent more than $284,000 on the school attendance audits to date.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Republican from the Dayton area who heads the Senates education committee, said its too early to determine how quickly lawmakers will respond to Yosts findings.
Weve got a preliminary report out of 100 schools, were showing evidence of five, a couple of those we knew going into it, she said. I do not think we still have an idea of just how wide the scope is of this. And the thing is, its very different at each of these schools. ... These are different issues, different responses, and the motivations may be all over the place. What the exact problem is, I think we still dont know.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.