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Ohio Auditor Gets Help From OSU Stats Experts For Data Probe

State board of education members received an update about possible attendance data manipulation at districts across Ohio. WOSU reports the state auditor also encouraged board members to release district report card numbers in light of the investigation. The investigation into whether some school districts retro-actively withdrew and re-enrolled students to obtain a better score on their state report card will not wrap up as early as the state auditor had hoped. Ohio Auditor Dave Yost admits there have been some stumbling blocks during the probe. Yost says it’s been tough to find out exactly who has been taken off the rolls. “There’s at least the equivalent of an urban school district out there that’s not counted in anyone’s grade cards.â€? The raw list includes about 88,000 students. And Yost says some of those could be duplicates if a student transferred between districts multiple times. But the trouble is, “We don’t have kids’ names.â€? That’s because, in Ohio, students are reported to the state by a number, not a name. “We have to go to the local school building to pull the identity of that number," he says. And Yost says that has slowed down the investigation which already has logged more than 7,000 hours. The auditor’s office has sought the assistance of Ohio State University statistics experts to develop a risk model that will help move the investigation forward. The model will be based on 100 school districts which have the highest percentage of students who took state aptitude tests and also were withdrawn from the district. “Once we’ve got the model in place and we’ve validated it, we should be able to apply it to school buildings and identify those schools that we have a reasonable degree of confidence have no anomalies in their reporting process," he says. The schools with irregularities will be investigated. And Yost would like the model by October so he can expedite inquiries for districts with ballot initiatives in November. “We think that the people have a right to know what’s going on in their school district," he says. "And I want to hasten to say, in most places, there’s probably not going to be an issue.â€? Despite the investigation, Yost urged state school board members to release this year’s district report cards, even though they may be skewed. “The data was probably bad last year in the same way. And there’s conceivably a benefit comparing year to year what was going on," he says. Yost says releasing the report cards will not hinder the investigation and actually, in his opinion, would penalize the systems “playing by the rules.â€? State education board members are set to decide Tuesday whether to release any figures. Acting superintendent of public instruction, Michael Sawyers, recommends releasing preliminary scores with a disclaimer stating the numbers are subject to change due to the investigation. “Absent us doing that, I think we’re giving the false impression to parents and families throughout the state that this is all finished and it’s done and over," Sawyers says. "And they’re going to say ‘what’s the outcome.’ I don’t have those results. But to be fair to everyone, I think we should provide the information that’s readily available.â€? But some board members, including Michael Collins, are concerned about the disclaimer. Collins says he fears it would incite questions from parents about whether their school district is involved in the attendance data investigation. But Sawyers argued not releasing anything would be akin to saying schools are guilty of data rigging. State school board president Debe Terhar expects members to pass a resolution to release preliminary report card information. “It’s the most logical conclusion to this. So it would be nice that we pass that," Terhar says. Yost says so far he thinks most schools systems will be clear of any data manipulation. The final investigation will likely be complete after the first of the year.