MARIETTA - Some local school officials say the Ohio Board of Education's decision to delay the release of state report cards while concerns over attendance data are investigated amounts to punishing the many for the sins of a few.
"It puts all of public education in a bad light," said Tony Dunn, superintendent of Belpre City Schools. "It makes us all look like cheaters. ... I don't want people in Belpre thinking that we massage our data, because we don't."
The report cards include testing, graduation and other data from the just-completed school year and give districts and individual schools ratings ranging from excellent with distinction to academic emergency. They were slated to be made public today before the state board voted unanimously last week to postpone the release "until questions are answered about the accuracy of attendance data reported by local school districts."
The state auditor's office is seeking those answers after the discovery in three school districts of irregular attendance and enrollment practices allegedly aimed at boosting performance rankings by excluding low-performing students' test scores. A statewide investigation was launched targeting schools with a high number of students withdrawing.
Acting state Superintendent Michael Sawyers told the Associated Press last week that ODE submitted a list of about 100 school buildings meeting those criteria (out of about 3,500 in the state) to the auditor's office. That doesn't mean all of them are being investigated or suspected of wrongdoing since districts are required by law to withdraw students after lengthy absences.
The board will revisit the situation during its Sept. 10-11 meeting, said John Charlton, associate director of communications for ODE. They expect to hear from the auditor's office about the status of the investigation before then, but there is no specific information or development they're waiting for that would trigger the release.
Charlton said the delay is not meant to imply wrongdoing on the part of all school districts.
"Most of the school districts ... have provided accurate data to the Department of Education and should not feel like they are at fault or are being punished," he said.
Vincent resident Cindy Jett said she was wondering when the report cards would come out, but she understands the reason they are being delayed.
"I think they should find out the truth," she said.
Wolf Creek Local Superintendent Bob Caldwell said he disagrees with the state board's decision but respects their desire to make sure the information they're putting out is accurate.
"It's frustrating that you have teachers and students that have worked so hard and you can't release it to the community that's probably waiting to see it," he said. "I wish we could, 'cause we're proud of it."
Districts have access to their own data so they can use it to apply for federal grants and target areas of improvement. But even that doesn't give them a definitive rating because Value Added data - which measures how much students learn in a year's time - is not available, said Tom Gibbs, superintendent of Fort Frye and Warren Local schools.
Last year, Value Added pushed Warren from an effective to an excellent rating. Gibbs said he knows parents and community members look for the information, but he's not sure how many people will understand it's a state decision, rather than a local one, not to release it.
"I think it's unfortunate that the state board of education has decided to delay report cards for over 600 districts because of the mistakes made by a few," he said.
Marietta City Schools Superintendent Harry Fleming said he isn't overly concerned about the delay but noted it will have some practical implications. The Value Added data is used in paying incentives for additional training and student performance under the Teacher Incentive Fund program, so that will be delayed, he said.