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"Data Scrubbing" Investigation Expands in Ohio School Districts

The Ohio Department of Education will expand its investigation into "data-scrubbing" allegations at four Ohio school districts—Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Columbus—looking at whether the districts improperly reported attendance data for 2012-2013.

The department said Wednesday that it was broadening ongoing investigations after determining that the four districts "showed evidence" of scrubbing their 2011-2012 attendance data. Columbus also improperly reported its 2010- 2011 attendance data.

The state will now issue new report cards for the 2011-12 academic year for Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo, and new cards for Columbus City, covering 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.

The state has zeroed-in on data scrubbing since the Columbus Dispatch highlighted the problem in Columbus City Schools.

In 2012, the paper examined how some administrators appeared to have altered student attendance records, in some cases, by withdrawing students who were persistent absentees and then re-enrolling them in school.

After an 18-month investigation and audit of the Columbus City Schools, State Auditor Dave Yost released a report earlier this year, describing what he called a "culture" of deception in the district under the former superintendent, in which administrators felt they had to "manipulate data or face consequences to their careers."

Yost also found that eight others, including Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo—some of the same districts named on Wednesday—had improperly reported student attendance data using "questionable practices."

Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard A. Ross said that the investigation will continue, and it could lead to possible sanctions, suspension or revocation of licenses.

"Misreporting of attendance data or 'scrubbing' jeopardizes the entire accountability system in Ohio and will not be tolerated," Ross said Wednesday in a statement. "We will continue to investigate data submissions and also the actions of individuals to determine if any professional conduct sanctions, up to and including suspension or revocation of licensure, should be conveyed."

The state also asked the districts to preserve all evidence related to the investigation. 

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