St. Louis school under fire for manipulating attendance records -

St. Louis school under fire for manipulating attendance records

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By KMOV Web Producer By KMOV Web Producer

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) – State Auditor Tom Schweich released his completed review of attendance records at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy in the St. Louis Public School District on Monday.

Information contained in this story is from a press release from the Missouri State Auditor's Office:

In May, Auditor Schweich activated the Auditor's Swift Assessment Program after receiving substantial, credible information alleging school attendance and enrollment data was being falsified at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy.

The severity of the allegations and the risk that evidence would be destroyed necessitated the auditor's rapid response. The team subpoenaed documentary evidence and sworn testimony and conducted interviews of every available Kindergarten through 6th grade teacher at the school.

Read the full audit report here.

The auditor's report concluded that enrollment and attendance data appears to have been manipulated, overstating attendance.

This may have helped the school meet Adequate Yearly Progress requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and possibly resulted in additional funding. Because of weaknesses in the school's computer system, the state auditor's office was not able to determine who was responsible for the data manipulation, but one employee testified, under oath, that the school's principal instructed her to manipulate the data.

Although district policy requires each teacher to enter attendance data directly into the computerized Student Information System each day, at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy, teachers were required to complete manual attendance forms, and a member of the office staff entered the data into the system.

According to sworn testimony, the principal required that attendance data be collected this way and directed changes be made to the data, without documentation to support the changes and without teacher approval of the changes. An employee also testified under oath that the principal told her to "clean up" attendance in 2010 by identifying every student with five or more absences that year and changing each of those absences to tardies in the system.

The auditor's office conducted several different tests and found numerous discrepancies between the manual attendance records completed by teachers and the official attendance data entered into the system by office personnel. Each time, the net effect of these discrepancies inflated attendance, which supports the testimony that attendance and enrollment data was intentionally manipulated. The auditors also found several other issues with the manner in which Patrick Henry Downtown Academy was handling attendance.

Patrick Henry Downtown Academy has shown significant unexplained increases in attendance, increasing over 12 percent from 2007 to 2010, and it had the district's highest elementary school attendance percentage (97.3 percent) in 2010. The school also had a significant decrease in absences and a corresponding increase in tardies in 2010, when the employee was told to "clean-up" attendance.

In addition, withdrawn students may have been shown as present in the computer and counted in membership and enrollment counts, which may affect federal funding, and, prior to 2011, the school did not record out-of-school suspensions in their system, therefore some students on out-of-school suspension were counted as present.

According to the audit, Patrick Henry Downtown Academy did not document late arrivals or early departures, so students who only attended a partial day were counted as present the entire day, which inflates attendance percentages. Also, the school withdrew some students during short-term absences, which inflates attendance percentages because withdrawn students are not counted as absent during the time they are listed as withdrawn.

The auditor's office recommended that, in addition to ensuring its policies are enforced, the St. Louis Public School District improve the attendance system to limit and electronically track when and by whom data and changes are entered in the system, to better protect data from unauthorized or erroneous changes.

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