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Attendance Data "Scrubbing" and Grade Manipulation Confirmed in Special Audit of Columbus City Schools
Columbus – A top-down culture of data manipulation and employee intimidation was uncovered by a special audit of the Columbus City School District released in a press conference held today by Auditor of State Dave Yost.
“This is a story of tears and sadness,” Auditor Yost said.
Auditors and investigators conducted work based on nine objectives (attached) and reviewed information for the period of July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011. Overall, the special audit found a troubling lack of documentation and records, inconsistently followed business rules, and unacceptably high data error rates.
Throughout the course of the investigation, Auditor of State staff conducted interviews with more than 40 principals and assistant principals, more than 230 teachers, the available Regional Executive Directors (REDs), more than 20 secretaries and other office personnel, and 25 current and former employees of the Kingswood Data Center. As the audit work progressed, it became clear that a culture existed in Columbus City Schools in which staff at all levels believed data needed to be manipulated or they would face negative consequences to their careers.
The interviews conducted with district employees quickly confirmed that the process of withdrawing and re-enrolling students with poor attendance and poor OGT test scores was directed by district administrators Steve Tankovich and Michael Dodds. In doing so, the withdrawn and re-enrolled students’ test scores would be “rolled up” to the state and not be included in the district’s report card score.
Data received by the Auditor of State’s office indicated that in one instance 374 students were withdrawn and re-enrolled on the same day. The Auditor of State’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) selected 106 high school student files for an extensive review and executed a search warrant on May 2, 2013 to receive the files. Of 106 students examined, the district could only provide documentation to support two withdrawals and could not provide any documentation to support re-enrollments. This matter will be referred to the Columbus City Attorney, the Franklin County Prosecutor and the United States Attorney’s office for their consideration.
A review of a sample of 200 letter grade changes found that 83.5% of the data tested did not have documentation to support the grade changes. Auditors could not determine whether the grade change was for a reasonable purpose. Evidence obtained from Marion-Franklin High School will be referred to the Columbus City Attorney, the Franklin County Prosecutor and the United States Attorney’s office for their consideration.
Auditors also randomly selected 120 students with absences retroactively erased during May and June 2011 for examination. Of the 10,440 collective absences, the district only provided adequate supporting documentation for four of the erased absences. In addition, 87% of the 10,440 absences were erased more than 30 days after the date of the absence.
The audit also reported additional findings and offered recommendations related to “zombie 12th graders,” course credits granted through the Virtual Credit Advancement Program, changes in the number of unexcused absences during the October Count Week, “drop out” codes, and mid-year enrollment breaks.
The Columbus City School District contacted the Auditor of State’s office concerning the district’s internal auditor’s finding that there were absences improperly deleted from the district’s attendance records. The Auditor of State’s office requested further review by the school district’s internal auditor. In June 2012, the Auditor of State’s office met with the Columbus City Schools’ internal auditor to discuss the results of her internal audit on student withdrawal activity. Meanwhile, similar irregular attendance and enrollment practices at the Toledo City and Lockland City School Districts were brought to the Auditor of State’s attention. Auditor Yost initiated a statewide audit of student attendance in July 2012, and results of the statewide review were released in February 2013. Due to the vast extent of fraud allegations, a separate special audit was launched at the Columbus City School District in November 2012.
A full copy of this special audit may be accessed online.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio, is responsible for auditing more than 5,800 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Dave Yost, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies and promotes transparency in government.