State needs to audit school data beyond Columbus

What is most disturbing about an investigation of the Columbus school district is the possibility – nay, the probability – that similar crimes are being committed in some of Ohio’s 610 other public education systems. Is rampant lying about student achievement going on elsewhere?

A “culture … in which staff at all levels believed data needed to be manipulated or they would face negative consequences in their careers” existed in Columbus schools, state Auditor Dave Yost said last Tuesday. He made the comment in releasing the findings of an 18-month investigation.

When reports of lying about student data surfaced in 2012, it appeared false information was being submitted to the state only on student attendance. But Yost’s probe discloses cheating involved virtually every facet of the education process, including grading.

During just one school year, 2010-11, Yost’s staff found 1,796 F grades given to Columbus students were changed to Ds. One administrator’s motto was, “D them up.”

It appears many school personnel were involved in the cheating process. Yost reported the school system official in charge of reporting data to the state specifically ordered principals to alter information to make the system appear to be performing better than it was.

Once Yost’s office began looking into lying about student achievement, some school administrators attempted to thwart them. Investigators had to obtain warrants and use police escorts to obtain some of the records they needed.

Yost said results of his investigation will be turned over to prosecutors to determine whether crimes were committed. Of course they were. Lying about the school report card data many parents and taxpayers rely on amounts to fraud.

Clearly, those responsible for cheating in Columbus schools should be fired. Some should be prosecuted.

Again, however, that leaves questions about the state’s 610 other school districts. In how many others does a culture of lying prevail?

State Department of Education officials and, perhaps, legislators now must consider what is to be done about the scandal. It may be that a permanent system of investigating reports from school districts is needed. At the very least, state officials should conduct thorough audits of several other school systems, small and large, to get an idea of the extent of the scandal.