A new report from the state auditor found Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and Winton Woods City Schools were manipulating attendance data for the 2011-2012 school year, but the report seems to lay much of the blame on state policy, not just irresponsible school districts.
CPS and Winton Woods were cited among nine school districts by State Auditor Dave Yost for improperly withdrawing students from enrollment. More than 70 other schools had errors in their attendance reporting, but they were not found to be purposely manipulating — or “scrubbing” — attendance data.
The report largely focused on flaws in state policy that enable bad attendance reporting — particularly a single “count week” in October that encourages school districts to boost attendance during that one week and no other time in the school year.
“Kids count every day, all year long,” Yost said in a statement. “They deserve better than what we're giving them — Ohio's current system for measuring attendance and performance is obsolete and in too many places, filled with error and bad information and even outright fraud.
As a solution, Yost is calling on legislators to change school funding so it’s based on year-long attendance reporting.
The report also made 12 other recommendations, including increased oversight and monitoring, more programs for at-risk students, better training, use of automated data reporting, more accessibility to pertinent information for the Ohio Department of Education and clearer rules.
Winton Woods was one of the few schools to self-report issues to the auditor. Jim Smith, interim superintendent of Winton Woods, admits the school made mistakes and will make adjustments. But he says most of the issues were explained away as errors, not intentional data manipulation. Only four of the 15 issues couldn’t be reasonably explained, according to Smith.
Smith says the Education Management Information System (EMIS), which is used to report attendance data, is problematic for highly mobile
students, particularly in urban school districts. He argues the system
is too complicated and difficult to use for tracking such students.
In a Feb. 8 press release, Winton Woods claimed the reporting issues were related to confusion regarding expelled students, poor record keeping and a lack of well-defined procedures and reporting systems.
In an emailed statement, CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan wrote the school district made mistakes, but internal audits did not find evidence of data manipulation or scrubbing. She linked the errors to confusing state policy and issues with highly mobile students.
School attendance data is one of many ways states measure school performance, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Update (Feb. 12, 10:29 a.m.): Originally, this story did not include comments from CPS. It was updated to reflect comments CityBeat obtained after publishing.