The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 14, 2012

Conneaut says faulty data hurt its report card rating

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — The Ohio Department of Education used incorrect data to calculate the Conneaut Area City Schools district’s graduation rate, Board of Education members were told at Wednesday’s meeting.

At issue is the district’s 86.2 percent rating on preliminary state report card for the new, four-year graduation rate indicator. The ODE considers 90 percent to be a passing grade. Conneaut’s score could cost the high school an eighth consecutive excellent rating, said Superintendent Kent Houston.

Houston said he has complained to legal counsel for a handful of Ohio education associations, as well as State Rep. Casey Kozlowski and his soon-to-be successor, John Patterson.

On Thursday, an ODE said no one at the Conneaut district has contacted them regarding the data and school officials have an opportunity to double-check and adjust the data they submit before the report cards are calculated.

For the 2011-2012 report cards, the state changed the way it analyzes graduate rates. In the past, the state merely looked at how many seniors received a diploma. Using that criteria, CHS had no trouble meeting that indicator. On the 2010-2011 card, the district notched a 95.7 rating.

However, the state now charts how long it takes a student to graduate, with four years the goal, said CHS Principal Dawn Zappitelli. Students who start as freshmen at CHS are assigned a state number that then sticks with them essentially through their high school years, changing only when they register at another district, she said.  The problem comes when those students, for whatever reason, leave the district but are still considered Conneaut students. In some cases, students opt for schools in nearby Pennsylvania communities. Others are special education students who are continuing their schooling elsewhere, Zappitelli said.

“We do have a high transient population,” she said. “(These students) have met all our criteria but we can’t mark them as graduated.”

Conneaut would have notched a 93.5 graduation score last school year under the old formula, board members learned.

Zappitelli provided examples for the board of students that seemingly are students at other districts or were enrolled before the four-year span that is now part of the graduation indicator. “We’ve taken a hit for circumstances out of our control,” she said.

John Charlton, ODE spokesman, there is no formal appeals process for school districts unhappy with their ratings. All data used to create the report cards is submitted electronically to Columbus, he said. At some point, administrators have the opportunity to go into the system, review the figures they sent and “correct any inaccuracies,” Charlton said.

Districts are free to ask questions about the most-recent data they’ve submitted, and in those cases ODE “typically looks at it,” Charlton said. Schools cannot go back several years, he said.

“if there’s a data issue or a misunderstanding, we’re happy to walk the district through (the process) and make sure the data was applied correctly,” Charlton said.

Houston could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Final state report cards for the 2011-2012 school year have been delayed pending an investigation into alleged data manipulation at some districts. Some preliminary data has been released, and based on those numbers Conneaut scored another effective rating, meeting 21-of-26 indicators. The previous year, the district met 17 of the 26 indicators.