Data News in Brief

Ohio Data Scrubbing Driven by ‘Mal-Intent,’ Auditor Says

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — October 23, 2012 1 min read
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McClatchy-Tribune contributed to this report.

The investigation found that school officials in several Ohio districts withdrew and then re-enrolled students with poor attendance records. Those students’ state test scores didn’t count for schools’ performance report cards. Earlier this month, the auditor released an interim report that found “questionable” practices in the Cleveland, Marion County, Columbus, Toledo, and Campbell school districts. The situation in each district was slightly different.

While the interim report did not establish malicious intent, Mr. Yost said last week that he thinks there is evidence that at least some of those involved did intentionally tamper with the data.

Columbus school officials had initially said they were not aware that any district employees were changing attendance records. After the release of the interim report, they said they were confused by state guidance on when to withdraw students who had been regularly absent. Officials in Toledo made similar claims.

The interim report recommends that the state establish independent oversight of districts’ attendance data. The report cites an inherent conflict of interest: Districts are responsible for reporting their data, but also have an interest in making sure their data are presented in the best possible light. The current reporting system allows districts to see a projected report card score when they submit their data, which could then lead them to choose to “scrub” data to improve that score, the report says. To discourage that from happening, the auditor’s report recommends that districts not have access to the projected score.

Mr. Yost has also been advocating that the state have access to individual students’ data. The current system, which leaves out student traits like name and age from the identifying student number, aims to protect students’ privacy but can lead to confusion—and, Mr. Yost says, has hampered his investigation. Additional reports are expected from the auditor’s investigation.

Some of the schools involved receive financial incentives for improvement or high performance on the tests, according to the interim report, though it does not say which ones.

McClatchy-Tribune contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 2012 edition of Education Week as Ohio Data Scrubbing Driven by ‘Mal-Intent,’ Auditor Says

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