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Columbus City Schools Await Results of Probe Into Altered Attendance Records

Michael Nutter

April 25, 2018

An inside source tells The Columbus Dispatch that the State of Ohio’s years-long probe into data mismanagement in Columbus City Schools is finally coming to an end.

More than four years after Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost delivered a report on widespread data mismanagement in Columbus City Schools (CCS), the resulting investigation may finally be drawing to a close.

According to a report from The Columbus Dispatch, Brown County Assistant Prosecutor Nick Owens claims the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) recently informed him that the State will take no additional action against CCS officials. After the ODE declined to comment, Owens produced an email from Director of the ODE’s Office for Professional Conduct Lori Kelly that appears to confirm his assertion.

As of last June, 35 of the CCS administrators singled out by Yost’s report were still employed by the district, but as Kelly’s email to Owens says, 26 educators embroiled in the scandal have signed a “consent agreement” — “a settlement that can include a suspension, training, or community service.” Another 16 have received a formal letter of admonishment. Though that response may seem severe, it’s par for the course for K-12 districts who lose track of the massive volumes of student data they’re expected to manage.

Extensive Data Mismanagement

Yost’s robust 91-page report details that CCS officials lost track of 511,889 absences during the 2010-2011 school year. Yost’s team randomly selected 120 students’ records to examine and found that of their collective 10,440 erased absences, CCS could provide documentation justifying the erasures in only four cases. State departments of education are especially sensitive to mismanaged attendance data, as it can have a significant impact on the amount of funding a school receives.

Yost also discovered “Zombie 12th Graders” in the CCS system. He investigated 132 CCS seniors who did not graduate at the end of the 2010-2011 school year and were subsequently enrolled at a CCS school for the 2011-2012 school year. Drawing from ODE enrollment data, the report found that “CCS included 80 of the 132 students during the 2011-2012 school year in the 2010 October Count Week data submitted to ODE.” Of these 80 students, Yost could only confirm that 28 had actually attended a CCS school during the 2011-2012 school year.

Understanding the Effects of the Scandal

While the state’s reaction to Yost’s findings were harsh, Yost himself was careful to point out that CCS as a whole did not receive any financial benefit as a result of mismanaging student records. “While he would normally expect changes to student attendance data to impact the school’s funding, there was no impact to CCS during the 2010-2011 school year due to the evidence-based funding model in effect during that year,” the report reads.

That said, because the district was unable to keep accurate records, many students who could have qualified for state vouchers that would have allowed them to transfer from underperforming CCS schools to higher-performing private schools were prevented from doing so. Educators obviously fear professional consequences from the state government, but it’s effects on student success like these that should truly inspire them to take control over their data reporting processes.

A Better Approach to Educational Data

The fact of the matter is that data management errors happen all the time in districts across the country —  most of them unintentional. In fact, Yost’s audit of CCS was the byproduct of a previous audit looking into alleged data mismanagement in 100 schools from 47 Ohio districts.

As Yost highlights, “One common denominator across the procedures we performed was a troubling lack of documentation. In addition, business rules were not followed consistently, and where sufficient records existed to make a comparison, error rates were often unacceptably high.”

At Vinson, we’ve designed our CheckPoint EMIS platform to quickly process and organize immense volumes of student data that would otherwise take weeks to validate, thereby helping district stakeholders avoid coming up short when auditors ask for documentation. CheckPoint provides superintendents and district treasurers with an easily accessible audit trail, ensuring that records are kept up-to-date and accurate at all times.

With CheckPoint, district stakeholders can not only rest easy knowing that their district will remain compliant with any and all state and federal data reporting requirements, but can also guarantee that their schools get every last dollar of funding to which they’re legally entitled.

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