During the past couple of months, uninformed parties have hijacked the narrative that school districts have somehow committed a crime by “scrubbing” the data they submit to the Ohio Department of Education. In fact, the concept of data scrubbing or data cleansing is considered a standard and positive process that works to identify and remove errors and inaccuracies within a data set to improve its validity.
Basically, the Dispatch’s ongoing criticism of data scrubbing as an inappropriate or criminal act on the part of schools also means that the newspaper is endorsing the use of unclean, inconsistent, and flawed data to report on the performance of Ohio’s schools.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Education, while currently being very outspoken as they deny any accountability for the practice, has regularly reminded schools of the need to engage in data scrubbing at the end of every school year before submitting their final data sets.
In April & May 2008, for example (the year that the Toledo Schools are reporting they asked for specific clarity around their student attendance reporting) ODE Newsflash memos were sent out to district superintendents and data coordinators with directions to clean up the data as the year’s end approached. Item #7 on the list of ten key actions unambiguously identifies the need for districts to make retroactive student withdrawals as far back as the beginning of the year in the interest of accurate reporting:
Yearend Reporting Period
Reminder: The Yearend reporting period for FY08 opens May 9, 2008 and closes on July 18, 2008. We encourage districts to start preparing for the Yearend reporting period now. Below is a sampling of things that districts can be working on before the reporting period begins.
7.) Verify all students that enrolled in the district since February Count Week are entered correctly and all withdrawals since the start of the school year are correct
Two years prior to those memos, on July 14, 2006, ODE’s Associate Superintendent for Policy and Accountability, Mitchell D. Chester (the current Commissioner of Education for Massachusetts), urged Ohio school districts to clean up their data in order to avoid scrutiny by the media.
Chester’s exact words from that memo (full text at end of post) from July 14, six weeks after schools had dismissed for the year:
If you find that your data are not accurate or complete, you need to correct and resubmit the data.
Please note that after this weekend, there are only two more submission periods to correct your data. We cannot stress enough the importance of the accuracy of the data you are submitting. Beside the direct impact on your district’s rating and AYP status, report card data receive enormous scrutiny by a wide variety of audiences including parents, the media and legislators.
That was over six years ago. But Chester wasn’t telling districts to cheat, commit fraud, or fudge their numbers to increase their report card grade. Quite the opposite, in fact, as you can see from the final two sentences in that memo:
Correct data can help create a greater sense of trust about the education enterprise generally and your district in particular.
Again, please work with your staff to assure that accuracy and completeness of your data.
While today’s Ohio Department of Education may boldly claim that they have no knowledge of the actions of school districts in the submission of data, it’s apparent that Mitch Chester knew all to well that data cleansing is a vital step in the process. Reviewing and correcting information at the end of a cycle helps to assure accuracy and completeness as the schools will need to withstand enormous scrutiny by … the media and legislators.
More data scrubbing, not less, is what ODE has clearly argued for over the years. So why are they so against accuracy now?
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