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State: Local school district named in probe

Northridge was the only Miami Valley school district in a statewide investigation found to have improperly removed students from its attendance rolls, according to a final report released Monday by Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost.

Seven Miami Valley districts were cleared of any data tampering through an interim audit released in October. The final audit shows records were examined in 13 local districts and no scrubbing was detected at Hamilton City Schools, previously reported as under investigation.

According to the final audit, Northridge officials did not have documentation to explain transfers, expulsions and other breaks in enrollment for 43 students at Northridge High School and 16 students at Esther Dennis Middle School.

Nineteen of the records cited at Northridge High School had withdrawal forms on file, with notes to reenroll those students. Twenty-three of the 59 total exceptions were coded as being withdrawn to homeschooling.

The Montgomery County Educational Service Center needs to approve all homeschooling requests, but none of those 23 reportedly made it on the approval list and were entered retroactively.

Superintendent Dave Jackson said he has freely given the auditor access to district files, and there was no attempt made to hide information. Jackson said in a statement Monday he was concerned with the auditor’s findings.

“We will take the information in his final report seriously, and are awaiting the specific details regarding the exceptions that have been identified,” Jackson said. “Once this information is received, we will be better able to evaluate our practices and to modify those practices in order to eliminate errors in the future.”

Yost said more than 260 auditors spent 10,807 billable hours investigating possible scrubbing in a sample of the state’s schools at a cost of $443,000. Yost said the audit looked at 331 individual schools in 137 districts and most Ohio schools are following the rules.

“If [the rules] were that ambiguous, if they were that hard to figure out, I would have expected many many more errors and more schools that showed up in that scrubbing category,” Yost said.

Yost said the vast majority of Ohio schools followed the rules and doesn’t think state law and policy is unclear, but there were warning signs that could have been checked by the Ohio Department of Education. Yost recommended the state collect attendance data continually throughout the year, instead of during one week in October, to discourage tampering with data.

Yost forwarded the report to the U.S. Department of Education Inspector General. He said no referrals to county prosecutors have been made, but the investigation uncovered actions that warrant disciplinary action.

The audit did not make conclusions about motivation behind enrollment changes, which might have caused gains on school district report cards and other accountability measures.

The investigation found nine districts statewide manipulated attendance data: Campbell schools in Mahoning County, Canton, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Marion, Northridge, Toledo and Winton Woods schools in Hamilton County.

The Hamilton City School District was found to have no evidence of scrubbing of attendance data.

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