State Auditor Dave Yost sent his investigators and uniformed Columbus police officers to 20 Columbus high schools yesterday to seize records for his investigation of school-data rigging. Throughout the 10-month investigation, Yost and his team have said that the district hasn't been entirely cooperative. Starting yesterday morning, his investigators spent hours driving from school to school, hauling out boxes of records.
State Auditor Dave Yost sent his investigators and uniformed Columbus police officers to 20 Columbus high schools yesterday to seize records for his investigation of school-data rigging.
Throughout the 10-month investigation, Yost and his team have said that the district hasn’t been entirely cooperative. Starting yesterday morning, his investigators spent hours driving from school to school, hauling out boxes of records.
At Walnut Ridge High School on E. Livingston Avenue on the East Side, a man who appeared to be a school employee wheeled two cardboard boxes out of the school on a red dolly and loaded them into the back of a silver SUV about 9:30 a.m. The driver, a woman, was escorted by a Columbus police officer who would not identify himself and said only, “It’s a super-secret thing.”
Later, police and Yost’s office acknowledged that officers escorted auditors as they rounded up records.
Yost would not provide details about the 34 search warrants his employees served at the schools, saying a judge had sealed them.
But the warrants give his office “ unfiltered access to data,” he said.
Yost said the information gathered yesterday was a “critical step” in wrapping up his investigation. “We felt this was something we needed to do to perform our duty.”
District officials maintain that they’ve cooperated with the auditor’s office.
Spokesman Jeff Warner said in a statement that the school district has made “hundreds, if not thousands,” of student records available to the auditor’s office — the same types of records sought by these search warrants. And he said the district cooperated fully with the seizure of documents yesterday.
Yost already has said that Columbus school administrators “scrubbed” low-performing students from the rolls to make schools and the district look better. More recently, investigators have begun to focus on whether employees improperly changed students’ grades. Changing a high-school student’s final grade from an F to a D could boost a school’s graduation rate, a key factor on state report cards.
“It’s kind of like pulling on a ball of string and it keeps unwinding,” Yost said yesterday. “ You keep looking for that end. There’s no way to say when you’re going to be done."
The lawyer the district hired to help it navigate the now-months-long state and federal investigations into data-tampering acknowledged recently that many more end-of-year grade changes took place at Linden-McKinley STEM Academy than he previously thought.
A Dispatch analysis of changes at Linden-McKinley that was published on April 14 found that administrators switched more than 80 students’ final grades from failing to passing after classes ended in the 2010-11 school year, the one Yost is investigating.
Robert “Buzz” Trafford — the lawyer hired by Columbus City Schools to help it navigate the state and federal investigations — at first said that he could identify only five students whose grades had gone from F to D. After further scrutiny, he acknowledged that he had discovered dozens more.
State auditors interviewed several Linden-McKinley teachers in March about changes to student grades in the 2010-11 school year. Recently, about 50 teachers throughout the district have been interviewed.
The auditor’s office previously has submitted subpoenas to the district that focused on grade changes, specifically for teachers whose students’ grades were altered after the teachers submitted them, and for individuals who changed grades. But it relied on the district to supply the records.
Marion-Franklin was one of the Columbus schools where the greatest amount of student data were changed, largely after the school year ended.
Stanley Pyle, a former assistant principal at Marion-Franklin who is retiring at the end of this school year, is accused of making several types of changes to student data, most notably to students’ grades. Pyle is using personal and vacation time to spend the rest of the year at home.
District logs of data changes analyzed by The Dispatch show that he switched 495 student grades from F to D in the 2010-11 school year.
A Dispatch investigation found that nearly 600 Columbus school-district employees changed about 5,300 final grades from failing to passing in 2010-11.
School employees made more than 311,000 grade changes during that school year. The district, which is Ohio’s largest, has about 50,000 students.
Dispatch Reporter Jill Riepenhoff contributed to this story.