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Yost releases results of Columbus City Schools data-tampering investigation

Yost releases results of Columbus City Schools data-tampering investigation

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- Calling it a "story of tears and sadness," State Auditor Dave Yost released the findings of an 18-month investigation into data tampering at the Columbus City Schools. Read the full report by clicking here.

The audit centered on the 2010-2011 school year. It confirmed that the district had been "scrubbing," a process that involves students being withdrawn and then quickly re-enrolled. Yost says the problems were worst at the high school level. He pointed the finger at the man who headed the district's data center, Steve Tankovich.

"If you can un-enroll that child then you can make sure that their numbers don't count against your school's grade card or your school system's grade card and that's exactly what was happening here under the direction of Steve Tankovich," Yost said.

During a news conference Tuesday morning, Yost said that Tankovich instructed principals to change data to improve report cards. Employees at the district's data center began to question the changes, which Tankovich claimed were okayed by the Ohio Dept. of Education, and demanded that he put the requests for changes in writing.

"Always a good test, because somebody that's not willing to put it in writing probably knows that what they're doing isn't righteous," Yost said.

The Auditor was asked how high this scheme went and whether or not former Superintendent Gene Harris was involved.

"There's a reasonable inference, based on our interviews, that she was at least aware of what was going on."

The audit also found that dozens of students were listed as seniors, but weren't actually in school attending class. Yost called them "zombie students." It also pointed out sloppy record keeping.

"This isn't just a paperwork problem. This isn't picking nits. This represents really a failure to document and record the things that are most important to a child's progress in the educational system."

There were also issues of absences during count week

"Only four out of 10,440 absences had any documentation to support them," said Yost.

Yost's office issued search warrants to obtain documents, including teacher grade books, as part of their investigation. He says of the 230 teachers they interviewed about grade changes, more than 200 indicated that administrators never talked with them about the changes.

All of the information in the report will be sent to prosecutors to determine if a crime was committed. Yost, a former prosecutor, said he would be disappointed if charges were not filed.

Yost hopes that this situation serves as a lesson.

"This is a time for tears and sadness and anger. I hope those things motivate the decision makers at the local and state level to take corrective action," he said.

The most troubling thing, said Yost, is the impact of dozens of Columbus City Schools students.

"There are members of that generation who were left behind. Who didn't get the resources or the attention or the opportunity they were entitled to and that's because the adults cheated," he said.

Four principals are being suspended without pay and recommended for firing for their role in the data scrubbing.

"We intend to continue holding accountable, those who's willful, deliberate, and inappropriate actions can be clearly documented," said Superintendent Dan Good.

He said the four principals are Mifflin High School principal Jonathan Stevens, Marion Franklin principal Pamela Diggs, former Linden McKinley STEM Academy principal Tiffany Chavers, and Independence High School principal Christopher Qualls. They were all sent letters on Tuesday.

"As long as I am here, to the best of my ability, I shall not allow anything of this nature to happen again," he said.

Good said that the auditor's report listed a lot of system and human failures. He added that he offers no excuses on behalf of the district.

Steps are being taken to deal with the situation, learn from it, and make changes, according to Good. He says more work lays ahead.

"We are working hard to right the ship and to restore the community's confidence in our school district," he said.

 

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