COLUMBUS — Ohio’s school superintendent says the investigation of changes made to student attendance data in several districts could lead to criminal charges against educators who committed fraud.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that Superintendent Stan Heffner discussed that possibility Wednesday, the same day the Ohio Department of Education announced the Lockland district in suburban Cincinnati filed false attendance data to improve its state report card. Changing attendance data can change the entire report card by controlling which students end up in the final pool of tests that are counted.
The department is investigating claims that Columbus and Toledo schools also retroactively altered student attendance records to boost district results. Heffner said he’ll seek simultaneous criminal and civil investigations if there’s evidence of fraud.
“I will be asking our office of professional conduct to launch investigations along with the attorney general’s office if I find there is evidence of fraud so we have civil and criminal investigations at the same time,” Heffner said. “Those people have no business in our public schools.”
Heffner said he has the option of downgrading districts’ ratings on their state report cards, fining them and withholding up to 20 ?percent of their state aid if it is determined that district officials rigged state report-card data.
“However, I also don’t want to do anything that hurts the opportunities of students because of the bad behavior of adults,” he said.
Heffner said the data questions and a focus on improving student test scores have created an overemphasis on state report cards for districts.
The state quickly amended Lockland’s state report cards, which detail how students do on proficiency tests, how frequently they attend class and how many graduate. The state says 36 students were falsely reported as having left the district and then added back to the roster later. The break in enrollment led to their test scores not being counted in the district’s overall performance rating.
Lockland officials released a written statement saying the school board has not had an opportunity to review the allegations and that the district had no comment.
The Blade of Toledo reported Thursday that some Toledo public schools leaders had detailed in back-and-forth emails their desires to exclude special education students and those absent for a length of time from their records — apparently to affect the weighted average of student test scores.
The state education department ordered an investigation after district Superintendent Jerome Pecko acknowledged to The Blade last week that schools retroactively withdrew and re-enrolled chronically absent students to erase their poor attendance records.