COLUMBUS: Amid an attendance-tampering investigation, Ohio has delayed next week’s release of annual school report cards, which determine innumerable decisions by schools and families about funding, student scholarships and building and program placements.
The state Board of Education voted unanimously Monday for the delay as it awaits results of a probe by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost.
Acting Ohio Superintendent Michael Sawyers recommended not releasing the report cards until the state can be sure the underlying data are accurate.
“The report cards are intended to give an accurate picture of how well schools are doing, and they shouldn’t be released with a cloud hanging over their reliability,” Sawyers said. “It’s not fair to the parents and educators who depend on them to see how their schools are doing.”
Yost launched a statewide probe after irregular enrollment and attendance practices were discovered in Columbus, Toledo and suburban Cincinnati districts. He’s investigating whether low-performing students were improperly removed from rolls to improve school performance rankings.
Sawyers said the U.S. Department of Education has signed off on a temporary delay until the board meets again in September. The release had been scheduled for Aug. 29.
Ohio was required to issue the local report cards this month in exchange for having certain requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act waived, Sawyers said. But he said federal education officials agree that questions about the integrity of the underlying data need to be answered before the reports are issued.
The report cards give parents and other members of the public a snapshot of each school’s year-over-year performance and how it compares with state education standards.
Building rankings drawn from the reports help determine whether students are eligible for the EdChoice program, which provides vouchers for private schools to students at consistently underperforming public schools.
They also can determine whether charter schools that pledged to outperform their public-school counterparts stay open.
“The trickle-down effect of this will be massive,” said Emmy Partin, director of Ohio policy and research for the Fordham Institute. “When you think of all the state programs that will be delayed or unable to move forward because they’re dependent on this data, it’s huge.”
Sawyers said further delays will have to be negotiated, depending on how long Yost’s investigation takes.
“He’s trying to expedite matters,” Sawyers said. “It’s my understanding he’s in districts already, with boots on the ground.”
At Yost’s request, the Ohio Department of Education identified schools that had a markedly high number of students withdrawing. The list included about 100 of Ohio’s 3,500 school buildings — or less than 3 percent, Sawyers said. He did not know how many of those buildings were being investigated.
Sawyers said districts are required under Ohio law to withdraw students after lengthy absences, and so showing up on the list with a high number of withdrawals doesn’t imply wrongdoing.