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Audit Finds Widespread Data Manipulation Occurred in Columbus City Schools

COLUMBUS (Ken Hines/Kate Liebers) -- The recently released results of a special audit reveal a pattern of data manipulation and bad record keeping within the Columbus City Schools District during the 2010-2011 academic year.

Calling the scandal a "story of tears and sadness," Ohio Auditor Dave Yost announced the findings of his office's investigation into allegations of doctoring of attendance and grade figures by Columbus City Schools (CCS) administrators.

Yost's investigators found that 511,889 CCS student absences were erased during the 2010-2011 academic year, a quarter of which occurred in May and June, after the issuance of the Ohio Department of Education's report card for the district.

The special audit also found that 2,709 CCS student grades were changed within the district in 2010-2011. More than 1,800 of those changes raised grades from an F to a D.

Yost's investigators found that the highest number of grade changes in the district occurred at Marion-Franklin High School. That institution's former assistant principal, Stanley Pyle, allegedly encouraged teachers to pass failing students on a consistent basis, repeatedly using the phrase  "D 'em up." Pyle resigned his position in June 2013.

Out of 230 teachers interviewed by auditors, 200 said they were not questioned about grade changes by CCS administrators. If true, this would be a violation of the district's collective bargaining agreement, according to Yost.

Also among the findings of the special audit:

- No uniform grading scale existed within CCS in 2010-2011, with some students being passed with grades as low as 55 percent.

- Students participating in the Virtual Credit Advancement program were allowed to complete work outside of school in violation of established regulations.

- The first CCS attendance report of the 2010-2011 academic year included 5209 more absences than the final report.

- More than 300 students who were identified as having three or more absences in the first attendance report had no such occurrences in final version.

- Seventy-three out of 100 sampled erased absences lacked proper documentation.

- Nine students -- called "zombie students" by Yost -- who did not attend school were nonetheless reported to the Ohio Department of Education as having attended classes.

- No documentation exists to explain why 104 students were withdrawn and readmitted to school on the same day. Yost has concluded that the moves were made at the request of district administrators Steve Tankovich and Michael Dodds in order to avoid the inclusion of those students' test scores on the CCS report card.

Former CCS Superintendent Gene Harris -- who held that position during the 2010-2011 school year -- refused to be interviewed as part of the investigation, according to Yost. The auditor said he believes Harris was aware of the improprieties occurring in the district.

Harris retired on June 28, 2013, exactly one year after Yost announced the beginning of the special audit.

Harris's successor, Dr. Dan Good, responded to the results of the audit during a Tuesday afternoon press conference, where he announced that CCS officials have begun the process of firing the principals of four district high schools: Tiffany Chavers of Linden-McKinley; Pamela Diggs of Marion-Franklin; Jonathan Stevens of Mifflin; Christopher Qualls of Independence.

Those principals have been suspended with pay pending further administrative action by school board members. An additional 11 CCS workers have already reached agreements to end their employment with the district.

Yost released a statement Tuesday afternoon following the district's decision.

"This is the time for bold leadership," he said. "The swift action taken today by Dr. Good and the school board is exactly what the Columbus City School District needs and the students and taxpayers deserve."

Yost has told prosecutors he believes criminal action may be appropriate in connection with the manipulation of data within CCS, though he declined to identify the names of those he feels should face charges.

Auditors interviewed hundreds of CCS employees during their investigation, including dozens of teachers, principals, and secretaries.

Yost's office conducted a statewide audit of student attendance reports after evidence of manipulation at CCS and other Ohio districts was discovered in 2012. A separate audit was ordered for CCS because of the extent of the alleged fraudulent activity that occurred within the district.

Click here to read the complete report from the Ohio Auditor's Office.
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