COLUMBUS: Auditor Dave Yost told state education leaders Monday that an Ohio law blocking the state from accessing students’ personal information is hampering district tracking efforts and wasting money.
Under a state law aimed at protecting children’s privacy, the Ohio Department of Education must keep track of nearly 1.9 million public school students across the state without names, addresses or Social Security numbers.
Yost’s office is in the midst of a statewide investigation into potential attendance tampering by Ohio school districts, and he said auditors are finding the arrangement unwieldy.
At a state Board of Education briefing on the attendance probe, Yost urged the 19-member panel to support lifting restrictions on student IDs and moving the Statewide Student Identifier, or SSID, system in-house. The Republican says the shift could save taxpayers an estimated $430,000 a year.
“This SSID is a stupid policy,” Yost said. “It makes no sense, it doesn’t help anybody, it costs money, and it makes ODE a less efficient manager.”
The Ohio 8, a coalition of big-city urban districts, recently flagged the SSID system in a report issued in response to Yost’s probe. Superintendents and union leaders in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Canton, Dayton, Youngstown and Cincinnati said a student is sometimes issued multiple IDs and, without names, the state has difficulty identifying the error. Losing track of a student can cost a district funding and hurt the student academically.
A performance audit by Yost’s office found that the state is paying IBM, its outside data manager, more than $752,000 a year to house and manage the student identifying data that’s off-limits to state education officials.
Only one other state, New Hampshire, segregates personal identifiers from the rest of a student’s record in such a way.
“What we’re really worried about here is kids’ information not being out on the street, not being easily accessible — and I’m all for that,” Yost said. “But we can do that by simply controlling the access and what the rules are for dissemination of that information. There are I don’t think any reasonable grounds to be worried about that.”
Acting Superintendent Michael Sawyers supported Yost’s recommendation and urged the state school board to act quickly to ask the Ohio General Assembly to give the Education Department access to the student data.
A panel could take up the issue as soon as Tuesday, on the second day of its monthly meeting.
Other elements of Yost’s presentation weren’t greeted so enthusiastically.
Board member Mary Rose Oakar challenged the accuracy of Yost’s findings against the Cleveland Public Schools — noting the totals were off by 14,000 students.
Yost said the discrepancy was due to a sorting error and was being addressed. He said it did not affect the final outcome of the report.
“You don’t think that matters if you’re 14,000 children off in your study?” Oakar said, attempting to continue her questioning.
“Madam President, I’m not going to stand here and be insulted by an uneducated question like that and not get to respond to it,” Yost said, seeking the floor from President Debe Terhar. Yost said the 14,000 was not a part of his office’s finding.
Yost continued to emphasize that his office is not pinning motives on district administrators and employees who “scrubbed” low-performing students off their roles. He said it is possible their actions were justified.