ONUMBA.COM – In the fast moving investigations into whether Columbus City Schools tinkered with student attendance record to improve its report card, School Chief Gene Harris was recently ordered to turn over documents involving the case to the State Department of Education, one of a trifecta of entities now looking into the possible skullduggery.
Accordingly, Harris was notified of the state’s investigation of the potential tinderbox a couple of weeks ago in a letter from Stan W. Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction.
“ODE will continue to expect that you and your staff, including your internal auditor, will be readily available to provide any necessary information or access to permit this special audit to occur,” wrote Heffner.
Heffner’s agency has the authority to conduct the investigation to see if there was academic finagling involved. Documents being requested include district policies for recording student attendance, email and handwritten correspondences by district officials involved in the matter as well as policies describing how and why students are removed and re-enrolled into the system.
Harris, in response to Heffner, agreed to make all documents available to him and his staff.
But those documents would also be turned over to the Auditor of States’s office where David Yost is preparing to plunge into the allegations of euchre with his own investigation. Spokeswoman for Yost’s office Carrie Bartunek said that her office is now assembling a cabal of investigators, attorneys and accountants for the project, for a gavel to gavel look into the labyrinth of matter.
Apparently, both investigations would run parallel with the one currently being conducted internally by the district’s audit office under Carolyn Smith.
So, with up to three separate investigations looking into the incident, it remains unclear how it all plays out.
Apparently, Harris, in a heads-up June 15 letter, had notified Heffner of a potential problem with the district’s attendance record. At the same time, when the story broke last week, she noted that she was not quite sure how serious the matter was and whether there was an intention to “cheat.”
“We don’t know what we have here — a big issue, a medium issue or a small issue.”
Seemingly, the big question for the investigating teams, and the nexus of the matter, is whether district officials often intentionally fudged attendance records of students for the purpose of boosting the district’s state report card.
Several current and former district employees, some of them data analysts and principals have expressed the view that some data manipulations and calculated Kafkaesque occurred in the district, with some recalling having wondered for years why a dizzying shoal of students with poor attendance records would suddenly be erased from the system and then later reappear.
But, who could be doing that, and for what?
They explained that the purpose of doing that would be to erase the records of students with poor attendance record from the system, that way they would be excluded from score tabulation for state report, which ultimately improves the district’s total student attendance score. The students would then be re-enrolled later.
Obviously, that’s their story and they are seemingly sticking to it. But the ongoing investigations will ultimately determine exactly what happened, and why.
Data submitted by school districts to the state are used for scoring district performances, especially student attendance rates which has direct and profound impact on student performances. If these reports of shuck and data manipulation are true, it certainly casts a scandalous pall of uncertainty over the performance of the Columbus School district the past several years.
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