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Attendance rigging tempts low-ranked schools across US

Published: 2/22/13 @ 12:00


Associated Press

COLUMBUS

A former superintendent went to prison in Texas for conspiring to remove low-performing students from classrooms to boost average test scores. Principals in Oklahoma and Missouri are out of their jobs after attendance-related scandals.

In Ohio, a recent state audit uncovered nine districts that withdrew students retroactively or improperly reported they were attending alternative programs. In one instance, Auditor Dave Yost said, a district ignored state rules “because they didn’t like them.”

It’s all part of a percolating national saga in which grown-ups — not kids — are the ones accused of cheating. Temptations to “scrubbing,” the process of improperly fixing enrollment or attendance data to somehow improve a building’s situation, can include rosier district report cards, added state or federal funding and employee bonuses.

“I think it is influenced by the high-stakes accountability environment that we’re in right now. It’s raised the stakes,” said Gary Crow, a professor of educational leadership at Indiana University. “It used to be when you take a standardized test and your students did well or didn’t do well, it influenced your teaching, of course, but it didn’t get connected directly to your pay, or your job security, or those kinds of things. Well, now, in a lot of places, it does.”

It also is easier to identify such cases in the increasingly data-driven world of education, although they remain isolated. An added factor, Crow said, is that educators and policymakers often are at odds over the effectiveness of standardized tests and other performance measures.

In Columbus, a student’s father alleges in a lawsuit that a series of improper withdrawals of low- performing students caused his daughter’s home school to rise in academic status, making her ineligible for a state voucher that allows students in failing institutions to attend better schools.

Losing the voucher meant that 15-year-old Kailey Beard’s $9,000 tuition to a nearby private school no longer was covered — and that she couldn’t play sports. Having a voucher allows the yearlong waiting period imposed on transferring athletes to be waived. It was a bitter blow to Kailey, who had dreamed of being a basketball star since she was 6.