Before central Ohio news outlets took a week off to focus on StanleyJacksonGate, the Columbus Dispatch was slinging accusations at the schools for allegedly falsifying attendance records.  And according to the Dispatch, the Ohio Department of Education was spurred to take action as a result of the riveting write-up by the newspaper – “the Ohio Department of Education said that because of concerns raised yesterday in a story in The Dispatch and after a request for help from the district, it plans to review the accuracy of Columbus’ attendance figures.

We were less impressed, and in our post last Monday (Columbus Dispatch continues to smear public schools) we exposed their shallow methods and twisting of words, resulting in a response in our comments section from the article’s author, Dispatch reporter Jennifer Smith Richards:

As your analysis points out, there are schools that meet the state’s minimum attendance requirement but fall below the minimum performance index benchmark. But maybe you missed the key point of the story? It’s rather unusual for schools to have exceptionally high attendance rates and very poor academic outcomes. (Your minimum was a PI of 90, which could mean a B grade for that school, and I don’t think most of us would consider low-performing.) In the case of all schools in Ohio, few have attendance rates of greater than 95 percent and performance index scores of below 80. In fact, there are only 73 of these schools out of more than 3,600.

A fair question to raise about the criteria, so we immediately began looking at the Ohio Department of Education data for the past six years….

(Insert a full week of StanleyJacksonGate here)

Now we find ourselves a week later and the Dispatch has resumed their attack on the school district and we are left to once again explain what they have gotten incorrect in their zeal to slam the schools, now making it personal based on unfounded accusations.

First, a brief summary of the Dispatch article:

The schools are rife with corruption because a few anonymous previous employees say so.  We’re now going to accuse specific individuals of corrupt practices despite our lack of any tangible evidence and in spite of the fact that no investigation has concluded.  We will paint anyone from the schools who claims otherwise as liars because our anonymous sources must be more credible because we want them to be.  At the end, we’ll bury the fact that charter schools comprise a greater percentage of schools that raise red flags based on our ever-changing criteria of what exactly merits attendance irregularities, while providing inaccurate data to support our change. If you read our full article, you’ll find a sentence way down near the end where we explain that the Ohio Department of Education’s director of accountability has looked at the data and has “seen nothing out of the ordinary.”

The most frustrating part of the article isn’t their inability to mask their bias against the schools (that’s a surprise to no one), but it is the changing metrics that they are choosing to use to try to prove their case that the game’s afoot instead of using the factual data to spark legitimate questions about what is occurring that is resulting in these supposedly anomalous figures.

In her comments on our post, Smith Richards stated we should be looking at “attendance rates of greater than 95 percent and performance index scores of below 80” because such numbers are highly unlikely and indicate irregularities (she said 73 schools in that category, ODE reports 78).  Yet in today’s article, Smith Richards switches up the metrics and reports that:

“Of more than 3,600 schools statewide, only 16 have attendance rates above 94?percent but a test-score index that would equate to an F.”

Before we proceed, we need to clarify that their report of 16 schools is 100% incorrect.  We can’t specify where they went wrong, but the correct sentence would read:

Of the more than 3,400 schools statewide, only 75 have attendance rates above 94 percent but a test-score index that would equate to an F.

Our best guess is that the article’s authors used the wrong number to calculate the conversion of the Performance Index Score to an F, fairly understandable given the fact that no such conversion has actually been adopted into law yet and the Ohio Department of Education keeps revising the proposals outside of the public eye through the ESEA Waiver (No Child Left Behind waiver).  But, given that the ODE website clearly lists the number of schools (3,453) and saying above 94% is hard to screw up, we’re projecting that the Dispatch used a score of <60 to identify an “F” grade instead of the correct proposed score of <72 that was in the approved ESEA Waiver (see below).

It’s an honest mistake if you aren’t used to looking at this data and these reports on a regular basis, but it does change the narrative quite a bit regarding the number of schools, especially charter schools, that fall into this category.  And when you look at it over a six-year time span, some very interesting stories emerge that are sure to raise some questions about the integrity of charter school attendance reporting.

Using the Dispatch’s suggested parameters of attendance >94% and a Performance Index Score of <72, here is a six-year trend of schools across Ohio:

Notice the overall decline in the number and percentage of schools showing up in this category since 2005-2006.  In total, there are 286 unique schools, some of which have repeated in this category multiple times.  Breaking these numbers down even further reveals that 156 are from public school districts and the remaining 130 are charter schools (54.5% vs. 45.5%).  Let’s put those on a chart to evaluate those percentages on a yearly basis:

Talk about your irregularities, right?  That sure looks bad for the charters, but let’s be completely honest – we know that charters are essentially limited to opening within the boundaries of the large urban school districts where poverty is at its greatest.  Since the attendance rates that the Dispatch is calling into question are in a large urban, a comparison with Ohio’s large urban districts might provide a better snapshot of any supposed irregularities.  Here’s that chart:

See any massive irregularities there?  Neither do we.  In fact, if this leads us in any direction, it should spur us to research the question of what we need to do to better support high-poverty schools in urban districts where students are attending at high rates but are still producing low achievement test scores.  While this thought is vastly different from the inclination of others to immediately assume that adults are committing some sort of fraud, we believe that our perspective might serve to improve the education process of students statewide, while the Dispatch merely wants heads to roll.

As far as the logic behind this scenario, research actually backs up the idea that high attendance in high-poverty schools might not correlate with high achievement.  Reports showing that children of poverty are likely to enter school approximately two years behind academically compared to other children means that those children will be behind unless a school is able to dramatically accelerate their learning against the backdrop of continued poverty.  So again, the Dispatch is missing the larger, more meaningful, story line that they should be encouraging the Ohio Department of Education to investigate; the question of why higher attendance at these buildings is not resulting in higher standardized test scores (since they are assuming that the schools aren’t engaged in this sort of investigation already).

Since none of us are holding out hope for that miracle of common sense to occur by the anti-school publication, and since the Ohio Department of Education apparently is more than willing to respond to published claims of wrongdoing, I’d like to add a few of my own “irregularities” that I have uncovered during this research and request that the Department of Education investigate these schools as urgently as they jumped all over the large urban schools.

Imani Learning Academy located in Toledo (Sponsor: Ohio Council of Community Schools)

In 2010-11, the K-8 charter school reported an astounding attendance rate of 100%, yet their PI Score was a mere 75.8, a grade of ‘D’ under the state’s new proposed grading system.

The Arts Academy West in Cleveland (Sponsor: Ashe Culture Center)

The now-closed charter school reported some fantastic attendance numbers over the past three years – 94.1%, 95.2%, and then a top mark of 100% in 2010-11 before closing due to lack of sponsorship.  Those three years resulted in underwhelming PI Scores of 64.1, 56.8, and, in that final year of perfect attendance, 57.8.

Groveport Community School in Groveport (Sponsor: St. Aloysius Orphanage)

This K-8 building is one of only two in Ohio to put up back-to-back perfect years of 100% attendance for 2009-10 & 2010-11 after having a previous high of only 94.6% in the previous three school years.  And despite such high attendance rates, GCS put up a ‘D’ score last year of 76.3, much lower than what the Dispatch would expect for such a perfect school.

Graham Digital Academy located in Saint Paris (Sponsor: Graham Local School District)

Ohio’s digital charter schools have astounding attendance rates (with often less than impressive student achievement scores), and Graham Digital is no exception as they are the other school with perfect attendance, but not for just the past two years, but the past three.  Their attendance rates for the past six years are: 98.8%, 99.5%, 99.7%, 100.0%, 100.0%, 100.0%.  And for those remarkable numbers they eked out a PI Score of 82.5 last year or, as the Dispatch would call it, a ‘D’ grade.

East Columbus Drop Back In (aka New Beginnings Academy) located in Columbus (Sponsor: Educational Resource Consultants of Ohio)

This school serving grades 8-12 was able to report 100% attendance in its very first year of operation, 2010-2011.  The Ohio Department of Education surely has this school on its radar already with an amazingly low PI Score of 42.3 (we’re checking to see if ODE has created an ‘F-‘ grade), but we’ve included them on our list just in case.  In our opinion the top-ranked attendance percentage should have resulted in more than the third-lowest PI Score in the state.  But we’ll leave that to the experts at the Dispatch and ODE to sort out.

North Columbus Drop Back In (aka Road to Success Academy) located in Columbus (Sponsor: Educational Resource Consultants of Ohio)

The sister school to the East Columbus version, North Columbus fared marginally better with a PI Score of 71.3 as they opened their doors last year.  Of course, pairing that score with an attendance rate 99.8% raises alarm bells at the newspaper and finds their spot on our list of questions for the Education Department.

Striving to Engage Potential (aka Hardin Community School) located in Kenton (Sponsor: Hardin County Educational Service Center)

Striving to Engage Potential fell way short of their name when they also paired their 100% attendance with an ‘F-‘ PI Score of 45, the fifth-lowest score among all schools in Ohio for 2010-2011.

Greater Ohio Virtual School located in Lebanon (Sponsor: Warren County Educational Service Center)

The website for this online school states, “This school is established under Ohio Charter School Law and provides a virtual educational program at no cost to the student or parent.”  Virtual, indeed.  Six years ago the school had an attendance rate of 100% and a PI Score of 83.8 (‘D’ for those keeping score at home), and has fallen all the way to an attendance rate of 98.3% <eye roll> while their PI Score has fallen down to 69.1 (‘F’).  Does a 12% drop in achievement align with a 1.7% drop in attendance?  We’ll let the Ohio Department of Education be the judge of that.

C.M. Grant Leadership Academy located in Columbus (Sponsor: St. Aloysius Orphanage)

Three years, three-time qualifier for the Dispatch’s High-Attendance/Low Achievement category, though their declining attendance and increasing PI Scores also seem to buck the experts’ findings.  The scores have increased from 42.1 up to 57.6 over the school’s short time in existence, but perhaps we should be concerned that their 100% attendance rate in year one has dropped to 97.8%.

Klepinger Community School (aka Imagine Klepinger Community School) located in Dayton (Sponsor:  St. Aloysius Orphanage)

Just like C.M. Grant, Klepinger has been open for three years and is a three-time qualifier for the Dispatch’s High-Attendance/Low Achievement category.  Their scores have increased from 50 up to 61.5 (also from an ‘F’ to an ‘F’) over the school’s short time in existence, while the attendance rate of their 130 students has been stable at 96.8%, 99.7%, and 96.2%.

And finally, the charter school organization that is the most frequent violator of the High-Attendance/Low Achievement criteria in all of Ohio – Summit Academy Schools.

In the past six years, 23 of the 30 Summit Academy schools located statewide have qualified for the list by reporting over 94% attendance and a PI Score of less than 72 for the same school year.  The 30 schools combined to meet the criteria 46 times over the past six years out of 157 opportunities (some schools closed, others opened) for an overall rate of 29.2%.  Summit Academy Schools are spread out all over the state of Ohio, including locations in all of the major cities, working with children of all grades, K-12.  And they continually violate the Dispatch’s performance standard and need to have their results thoroughly investigated as the only explanation can be fraud on the part of the schools’ operators.  And while the Ohio Department of Education obviously has no other recourse than to disperse their investigators to the 26 currently operating Summit Academy locations all over the state, we would like to offer them one final piece of information from the Summit Academy website before they leave:

Summit Academy Schools are specifically designed for students with AD/HD, Asperger’s Syndrome and related disorders. The majority of our students are on an Individual Educational Plan (IEP).

Hmm. I guess you have to dig deeper than the numbers sometimes.

But what would I know, I’m not a real journalist, I’m just a blogger.