October 9, 2012



That's what the recently-released Ohio Auditor of State's INTERIM Report on Student Attendance Data and Accountability System announced Princeton High School's status to be.

A little background here...

Every student in Ohio is required to attend school. That's not terribly different from it is in most every state in the Union. Each state has a few loopholes that allow parents to pull their students from schools if they can show that they're being responsible for their child's education - filing educational plans with the local school board, stuff like that.

Because of this requirement, each school is required to demonstrate that they are definitively educating each student in their district. If a student is assigned to a school, they stay assigned to that school until there's proof that the student has been assigned to a new school. You can't, in other words, withdraw a student until their new school enrolls them - meaning until you get a request for records from that new school.

Seems pretty straight forward, sure, but there are two complicating factors, both of which are part of the state report card for schools: attendance and state testing. Every school is 'graded' on a series of factors, most of which are based on various state-wide tests (10th-grade science, 4th-grade math, 5th-grade reading, etc) with attendance and graduation rate thrown in for good measure. We have to test every student in our building, but we only have to count the scores of the students who are 'ours' for 120 consecutive days - from the end of September through the March testing dates. If a student scores poorly on the state test but hasn't been with us for 120 days, that score doesn't count for us. This, then, gives schools incentive to err on the side of over-removing low-scoring students who have less than constant attendance to keep our state testing percentages as high as possible - while also giving us an incentive to (sometimes) under-remove students because we need attendance percentages of at least 93%.

Let's say, for example, that a student takes the test and leaves Princeton to transfer to another school. If we receive the request for records on what would be the student's 122nd day with Princeton but the student left on day 115, the official state policy of removing the student on day 122 may hurt us doubly as the student was not in school for days 116-122 and maybe the student's test score wouldn't have helped Princeton's numbers.


Apparently things like this have been going on all over the state - definitely in Lockland which was officially announced as having fudged their attendance/testing numbers this past year and whose cheating has set off a fire storm of investigation by the Auditor's office. The Auditor's office developed a list of one hundred schools whose statistics - students tested, students whose results were cleared - suggested that they needed a second look. Alphabetically, Princeton High School was #73 on that list (linked above) which meant that Princeton was visited by staff from the Auditor's office for a week or so who asked questions regarding our attendance recording.

This wasn't ever officially discussed with the staff or anything. We just...you know...heard about it here and there and got to read the following announcement on the district website...
The Princeton City School District was notified on September 4 that the office of Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost wished to review our procedures and supporting documentation for student attendance for fiscal year 2011 for Princeton High School. Princeton, along with approximately 100 other schools in the state, was selected due to our high mobility rate that resulted in a large number of students not meeting the criteria for Full Academic Year (FAY). Only students that are continuously enrolled from the first week in October through the week of state testing are considered to meet FAY and have their test scores count on the district report card.  The complexity of urban school districts, as well as those districts adjacent to them, is not widely understood. These school districts often have high rates of poverty and homelessness that may result in families having to relocate frequently.  Additionally, Princeton serves as the fiscal agent for a juvenile court facility.  These attendance files and records are property of the facility, and Princeton does not have access to these requested records. 
While the financial auditors assigned to this work had no experience with this type of paper audit and the types of documentation they would encounter in the process, they were open to learning about the complex system of paperwork surrounding the lives of many students and families in school districts while still managing student confidentiality. The state auditors were present in the school district for five days reviewing student records to verify enrollment and withdrawal of individual students.   No evidence of attendance tampering was identified. Princeton staff appreciates the suggestions from the auditors for improved efficiencies for the management of our paperwork and will begin to improve our systems immediately.
So it seems that Princeton is in the all-clear...at least according to Princeton's website announcement.

And then the big INTERIM report came out and broke the schools down into various categories: 'Schools With Evidence of Scrubbing' (36 of those), 'Schools With Errors' (28 of those), 'Clean Schools' (21 of those), and 'Schools Indeterminate as of the Date of This Report' (15 of those). That last category is the one where I'd like to spend a little time today because there are two schools that are sort of near and dear to me and mine in that category: Hamilton High School and Princeton High School.

Here's what the Auditor's INTERIM report has to say about that last category of schools...
The following table describes the schools where enrollment testing for the 2010‐11 school year is still indeterminate due to factors outside AOS control (e.g., schools are still gathering student information files and other information to support enrollment) as of the date of this report
It's not anything definitive there. There's no concrete proof of any maleficence (big word, huh?) or anything, but I'm not sure anything as definitive as 'no evidence of attendance tampering was identified' in the word 'indeterminate' either.

With all this hullabaloo, all this kerfuffle, all this turmoil and tumult, all this brouhaha, all this upheaval, of course, the report cards for the 2011-12 school have yet to be released - at least a month later than they've always been released in the past years.

(Source - WVXU)

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