ONUMBA.COM – Columbus School Chief Gene Harris, in response to the recent allegations involving falsified student’s attendance records in her district, wanted to make one thing abundantly clear about her integrity:
“I will not tolerate a situation where there is anyone knowingly or willingly manipulating the data,” she said. “We don’t know what we have here — a big issue, a medium issue or a small issue.”
But at the very least, we do know that it is an “issue” and that it potentially looks pretty bad for the district where almost all its schools maintain near sterling scores in attendance. Now, some may start to question that record.
This mess bubbled up after media reports exposed disturbing instances over several years where attendance records of students were altered, usually in June, just before the data is sent to the State Department of Education for analysis, compilation and reporting.
Harris explained that the allegations reached the media after several students who were documented in the system as truants were told by the courts that they were not.
Data submitted by school districts to the Ohio Department of Education are used for scoring district performances, especially attendance rates which has direct and profound impact on student performances. If these knavery reports of shuck and shenanigans are true, it certainly casts a combustible and scandalous pall of uncertainty over the performance of the Columbus School district the past several years.
Harris, limpidly grappling with an uncomfortable matter of a gossamer ilk, said she does not know if this was an error or whether there was an intention to “cheat.” Well, that’s precisely what the district internal audit investigation will soon uncover and let everyone know.
The big question for the investigators is whether district officials often intentionally tinker with attendance records of students for the purpose of skewing the district overall scores. It appears when more of students who maintain good attendance record and less of the truants are included in compiled test scores for statewide report, it improves the performance of school districts. It then means that when the attendance records of students who are performing poorly are manipulated and excluded from data analysis and score tabulation, which is exactly the allegations facing the Columbus School district, it potentially could be for the purpose of skewing performance in state report.
However, it is all speculation at this cusp.
At the same time, one former school official, among many who have known for years about problems involving the district’s attendance data, recalled instances of possible data Kafkaesque, having wondered for years why students with poor attendance records would suddenly be erased from the system and before you knew it, they would re-appear there.
At this cusp, everyone is embracing a “wait and see” posture not knowing the scope and gravity of this potential tinderbox until more is uncovered.
School board member Mike Wiles has nothing to say for now.
“As far as what exactly is going on, I don’t know. There is an internal audit report imminent,” he said.
Apparently, he and the rest of Columbus are ardently awaiting that report to get to the bottom of a snowballing saga that could be a big mess for the district.
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