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Ohio District Chief: Attendance Tampering Possibly Led To Bonuses

Since June, a potential education scandal has been swirling around Ohio, linked to the recent discovery that some districts were tampering with their attendance data.

As my colleague Andrew and I wrote this week, if truant students can be wiped from the books and then re-enrolled, the district doesn't have to count their scores on state tests. The Ohio Auditor of State, Dave Yost, has launched an investigation into the practice of attendance "scrubbing." So has the state's department of education, though it will have to do so without the leadership of former Superintendent of Instruction Stan W. Heffner, who resigned over the weekend because he was the subject of a critical ethics report.

If that weren't enough, the latest news from The Columbus Dispatch is that Columbus Superintendent Gene T. Harris says that some teachers and principals might have benefitted from the practice. From the story:

For the first time since The Dispatch began reporting in June about huge numbers of retroactive changes that could have altered the district's state standings, Harris acknowledged that ongoing state and internal investigations will turn up wrongdoing.

"Obviously, we know we have some kind of an issue," Harris said, adding that for some of the changes, there was "no plausible reason."

"I'm not going to defend stuff that's indefensible," she said.

Harris maintained that she didn't direct the effort, nor did she even know about it, even though dozens of others, including some of the district's highest-level administrators, did.

"Is it a problem that I didn't know? I can't say." Harris said. "All I can say is what we can do going forward. I can second-guess myself. Trust me, I have.

"What we're going to do is right this ship."

Harris has been superintendent of the 50,000-student Columbus district, the state's largest, since 2001. The article says that many of the principals were instructed in how to change data by a school official who has now been reassigned. Harris said the principals thought that the attendance scrubbing was a legitimate practice.

Clearly there's more to come with this complicated story. And it's worth keeping in mind that this is not the first clue that some Ohio districts may have been aggressively manipulating their attendance data. In 2008, The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote back in 2008 about the practice in the 44,000-student district. The newspaper's analysis showed that "14 percent to 32 percent of the scores in grades 4 to 10 were eliminated in 2007—the year the district rejoiced over an improved state ranking."

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