Ohio auditor: Probe not affected by report card release

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Releasing delayed state report cards won't hamper an investigation into potential tampering with school attendance numbers, Ohio's state auditor told education leaders Monday.

Appearing before the state school board Monday, Dave Yost said posting the annual performance assessments would have no impact on his investigators, adding that fear of posting bad data is probably misplaced.

"This is not a new issue. The situation's been going on for some time," he said. "I would suggest to you that the data was probably bad last year in the same way."

Yost began a statewide inquiry after irregular attendance and enrollment practices surfaced in Columbus, Toledo and suburban Cincinnati districts. Removing poor students from the books can boost performance measures that determine government aid and improve school performance rankings.

Out of concern such practices created flaws in the report cards, the school board voted last month to delay their release. It was an unprecedented move with ripple effects across the state, as the report cards are used to determine eligibility for certain programs and the fate of some charter schools, as well as providing school-by-school information to students and their families.

The board could vote as soon as Tuesday on whether to post the report cards. The Ohio Department of Education had received special permission from federal education officials to miss an earlier deadline due to Yost's investigation.

Yost said Monday the investigation is the top priority of his office. He said he intends to get as much work done before the election as possible-- since many school districts have levies on the ballot.

"We want the voters where there is a school levy on the ballot to have reliable information," he said.

Investigators have invested 7,000 hours exploring which schools withdrew students and whether the withdrawals were legitimate. Auditors are visiting an initial 100 districts that showed high levels of student withdrawals to gather records as the auditor's office builds its database.

Yost has asked Ohio State University statistics faculty for help building a model for identifying reporting anomalies. The threshold is schools with high levels of withdrawals among students who took standardized tests.

Once that model is created, his office will be able to produce an "exclusions list" of districts where there's a reasonable probability nothing irregular occurred. Others will be further reviewed, with those pursuing levies coming first.

"There may be 100 schools -- or more, or less -- that were involved in manipulating attendance data," he said. "We have no idea right now."
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Online:
Ohio Auditor's Office: http://www.auditor.state.oh.us

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