The Columbus Dispatch in 2012 flagged a practice by which the Columbus City Schools seemed to improve performance by selectively enrolling and dis-enrolling students. David Yost, the state auditor, started investigating allegations of attendance “scrubbing” in Ohio districts. The troubling question was: If administrators were playing fast and loose with data in the state’s largest school system, how widespread was the practice? Which regulatory and oversight holes were districts exploiting?

When the auditor issued his report last February, he identified nine districts and indicated an ongoing review of the Columbus district. Yost released his findings Tuesday, assembling evidence of “a top-down culture” of falsified data and intimidation dating back a decade.

During the past 10 years, the report said, some administrators at all levels lost sight of the mission to educate children. They “began to alter data of various types for the sole purpose of making it appear that CCS was achieving academic success at a higher level than it actually was.” Under the gun like all other districts to improve student achievement, the administrators bypassed the hard lifting, pressuring teachers, secretaries, principals and assistant principals to manipulate data to make the schools and district look good in state rankings.

The auditor cited instances where employees withdrew and readmitted students the same day. Grades were changed by the hundreds. In one year, 512,000 absences were erased. Students who were supposed to have graduated were marked as seniors, “zombie 12th-graders.” Employees feared for their careers if they balked at the irregularities. The school board shared the blame for the failure of oversight that helped to create an environment in which key administrators could perpetrate such brazen educational fraud.

The auditor promises to refer some administrators for possible prosecution. If Columbus stands alone in the extent of cheating, the notice is clear, all the same, that school boards and state education officials must pay keen attention to the integrity of the data reporting process.