BLUMER: School absence ‘scrubbing’ is a disgrace

By   /   July 24, 2012  /   Comments Off on BLUMER: School absence ‘scrubbing’ is a disgrace

By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog

Tom Blumer

A comment on my home blog tipped me to a Sunday Columbus Dispatch story about how 2.8 million student absences have been erased from computers at Columbus City Schools in the past 5-1/2 years and not included in attendance reports submitted to the Ohio Department of Education.

I thought at first that it was a hoax, or that perhaps a spam comment had gotten past my blog’s filter. Nope. CCS scrubbed the absences of chronic truants and then re-enrolled them as regular students in good standing, thereby making the schools’ average percentage of student attending classes far higher than it really was.

Before getting to the possible motivations, let’s run some numbers from Bill Bush‘s report:

  • The erased absences averaged a little more than 500,000 per year.
  • Bush’s write-up doesn’t contain data for every year, but it does tell us that CCS reported 449,000 absences to ODE during the 2009-10 school year.
  • During the 2010-11 school year, according to its annual report, K-12 enrollment in all CCS schools was 52,851.
  • It’s reasonable to conclude, since enrollment levels wouldn’t have changed much in one year, that the average child was reported absent for more than eight days during the 2009-10 school year (449,000 divided by roughly 53,000 is 8.5 days).

This math is how the district got to brag about its 94.2 percent attendance rate — after the scrubbing.

Even if that 94.2 percent were truly clean, I fail to see how anyone can be proud of a situation where the typical student misses almost one day per month. How many readers here could miss one day per month at their jobs and remain confident that they would still have a job after even a year?

Additionally, don’t forget that every student with perfect or near-perfect attendance has to be offset by someone who was away from school for 15 or more school days.

Throw in another 500,000 scrubbed absences while perhaps adding a bit to total enrollment, and you have a situation where the average CCS student in 2009-10 was absent a mind-boggling 17 days or more.

But wait, there’s more. Bush tells us that the 2009-10 school year, with 627,000 instances found, was actually the worst year for scrubbing, meaning that the average student was absent for a bit less than 20 days — almost 11 percent of the state’s required 182 days. Even the Dispatch didn’t have the nerve to ask this question: What if all the scrubbing wasn’t found?

Why did CCS do it? As is so often true, it’s a case of “follow the money.” Bush reported that, “The changes could have boosted not only attendance numbers but also test-passing rates and the amount of state financial aid the district received.” There are laws against extracting state money by submitting false information. They should be enforced.

Ignazio Messina at the Toledo Blade, in reporting July 21 on how the Toledo Public Schools has engaged in the same shenanigans, also noted that keeping parents concerned about the quality of their children’s school off administrators’ backs was a partial motivation.

Past administrations had “manipulated some students’ attendance data to improve state report-card scores,” said TPS Superintendent Jerome Pecko.

Pecko gets it right when he says that it will “not be done this year.” It never should have happened anywhere.