When the Ohio Department of Education delayed the release of school report cards this year, many districts shuddered.
Not the Akron schools. Officials knew they played straight with the data.
The delay involved the state auditor reviewing attendance records in a statewide investigation into allegations of “data scrubbing” in some districts. The concern is that no district’s scores should be favorably skewed by playing fast and loose with the numbers. The auditor’s preliminary finding is that the practice appears not to be widespread. But gaps and inconsistencies signal that some districts are doing a poor job of record-keeping.
There has not been any hint of data manipulation in the Akron Public Schools. The district’s actions reflect a clear understanding of the need to protect the integrity of the data. The practice speaks to building trust between the public and the schools. The public must be confident that it is getting an accurate assessment. The pressure on districts to show results (or else) has given rise to various tricks to game the system, from outright cheating, such as educators changing student answers on tests, to encouraging weak students to stay home on test days, removing from the rolls students with spotty attendance or focusing on a small segment of students on the bubble.
One example of how the Akron district plays it straight is evident in the way it uses data to track students to improve its graduation rates. At 75.3 percent, the district’s four-year graduation rate is below the state passing grade. Yet Akron is demonstrating how keeping close tabs on students, with accurate documentation and tracking, enables the district to identify students who are just short of graduation and working with them — over the summer of their final year or during their fifth year — to ensure they graduate.
For the first time this year, the state calculated graduation rates using a federally required uniform formula to generate a more accurate count of how many students graduate within four years of entering ninth grade. Among Ohio’s eight large urban districts, the result has been instructive, some districts facing 18 percentage point drops in graduation rates. Akron recorded the smallest difference, a drop of 1.1 points.
The district’s graduation rates have risen slowly but steadily during the decade. The district has been honest in using data to the benefit of students, not to inflate its scores and performance profile.