By Marc Kovac
and jeanne starmack
The Campbell schools superintendent says the district is cooperating with the state auditor’s office after an investigation revealed improper enrollment records may have influenced state test scores.
A report released by state Auditor Dave Yost said Thursday that Campbell is one of five districts statewide that improperly withdrew students from their rolls, likely improving scores reported to the state in the process.
Yost’s office did not deter- mine that the districts intended to improve their scores.
Campbell Memorial High School and Campbell Middle School, along with 34 other schools in districts in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Marion, did not have proper documentation, failed to file truancy claims with courts or otherwise fell short of requirements for dropping students from their ranks, says the report.
Eleven students at Campbell Memorial High School and 29 at Campbell Middle School did not have supporting documentation in student files about their withdrawals.
A further search of electronic records found 32 of 40 student withdrawals were made retroactively in May and June 2011, after student test scores were determined.
The 40 students did not have to be counted in the school district’s state report card because of the breaks in enrollment, said Bob Hinkle, chief deputy auditor.
He said that if those students had done poorly on the state tests, which were given in May, then their withdrawal from the rolls could have improved the district’s test scores.
“It could have had an effect,” he said, adding that auditors don’t know how those students scored.
The auditor’s office also said it is continuing to investigate “these retroactive withdrawals.”
Campbell’s overall district rating on its state report card fell from Excellent to Effective for the 2010-11 school year.
Campbell Superintendent Tom Robey said the district is doing its own investigation into why the withdrawals were added retroactively.
He told the Vindicator on Thursday that “the school district looks at its data at that time to ensure its accuracy.”
“We’re taking this matter very seriously and working to try to resolve it,” Robey said.
“We do not always get the truth about what’s going on with our kids from the grade cards, from the reporting system,” Yost told reporters during a press conference near the Statehouse. “And we need to do a better job. There needs to be better accountability, so we can measure how well we’re doing and the progress we’re making educating our kids.”
The auditor reviewed records from 100 schools in 47 districts as part of the first phase of an investigation of attendance practices after irregularities were noted in Columbus city schools, with allegations of scrubbing to improve test results.
Schools are allowed to withdraw students for a number of reasons, including transferring to another district or private school, being expelled or opting to homeschool.
Yost’s office and others are focused on students withdrawn for truancy or nonattendance without proper documentation and a court involvement. The five districts noted in the report released Thursday didn’t meet those requirements.
Yost stopped well short of categorizing the practices in Campbell, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo or Marion as criminal, saying his office did not determine intent. But he called for the state to institute better accountability and cross-checks of enrollment and withdrawal records sent by school districts to state officials.
“It’s probably beyond the scope of an audit to make a determination that somebody is padding the stats,” Yost said. “What we have found is that the withdrawals and the subsequent improvement to the assessment population are being done inappropriately in at least five districts.”
He added, “Ohio’s system of accountability and grade cards and attendance relies on the honor system. The local school district sends it up to the state, and that’s kind of the way it ends. There needs to be some independence between the management and policy functions that [the Ohio Department of Education] fulfills now and the accountability functions that it has.”
Of the other districts that were audited, 28 schools had minor errors in their withdrawal records, including two in Akron City (North High and the Akron Opportunity Center), one in Warrensville Heights (Eastwood Elementary) and four in Youngstown (the University Project Learning Center, P. Ross Berry Middle School, Volney Rogers Junior High and Youngstown East High School).
Twenty-one others were categorized as “clean,” meaning no errors or improper student scrubbing.
The auditor’s office did not have enough information to make determinations on 15 schools.
Yost said the audits released Thursday are the first in a series that will be released on attendance scrubbing in coming weeks and months, with details on additional schools and districts.
The auditor’s office has devoted 6,930 hours and spent more than $284,000 on the school attendance audits to date.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Republican from the Dayton area who heads the Senate’s education committee, said it’s too early to determine how quickly lawmakers will respond to Yost’s findings.