The Repository collected and compared three sets of enrollment data from 21 local high schools. Figures used by the schools themselves, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio High School Athletic Association often don’t add up.
As students inside high schools tackle algebra, statistics and calculus courses, the arithmetic of counting those students remains a story problem.
There simply are so many ways of counting students: Daily attendance reports, October head counts, end of year counts, Education Management Information System (EMIS) numbers and a sometimes altogether different figure used to place teams in divisions by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
“In any given district, (enrollment) changes every day,” said Donna Fisher, data management and EMIS director for Massillon City Schools.
Students move in and out. They go from one parent’s home to the other, or move in with a relative. They get expelled. They drop out. They quit coming to class. So, exactly what is your school’s enrollment?
The answer: It depends.
Take McKinley High in this past school year:
• There were 1,171 males and females in grades 9, 10 and 11 combined, according to the OHSAA.
• The Ohio Department of Education’s official October average daily membership, used to calculate state and federal funding allocations, pegged those three grades at a total of 1,135 students.
• At the end of the school year, Canton City Schools officials reported school enrollment of 1,015 in those three grades.
So The Repository collected those three sets of enrollment numbers for 21 local high schools and compared them (see accompanying chart).
As a whole, local schools began the 2012-13 school year with 14,610 freshmen, sophomores and juniors. By the end of this school year, those same schools reported only a total of 12,822 students in those grades.
It also appears that some enrollment numbers obtained by or supplied to the OHSAA for sports are either flawed or questionable.
ENROLLMENT FOR SPORTS
In odd-numbered years, the OHSAA adds the number of freshmen, sophomores and juniors in each of its 823 member schools. Each school is grouped with similar-sized schools and split into divisions for boys and girls sports for the next two years.
Basically, the OHSAA calculates enrollment numbers like this: It’s the same as a school’s October average daily membership that’s used for funding — minus all students categorized as multi-handicapped.
This year, however, the OHSAA faced a near revolt.
It pulled enrollment numbers from the Ohio Department of Education EMIS database, just as it has done for two decades. This time, though, results were out of whack for more than one-third of the schools, sometimes off by hundreds of students.
The problem turned out to be an upgrade to EMIS, which rendered enrollment data temporarily unreliable as far as the OHSAA was concerned.
“We were in a quandary,” explained Jeff Jordan, the OHSAA’s chief financial officer.
So it tried to fix the problem.
Page 2 of 3 - Officials at member schools, Jordan said, got an opportunity to produce their own enrollment data to help reconcile the issues. That’s similar to the self-reported system the OHSAA moved away from years ago because it was unreliable.
“That is a risk when we pull (enrollment numbers) at the school district level, but we had no choice,” Jordan explained.
Last month, after settling numerous appeals, the OHSAA released its final numbers. The figures then were used to divide schools into seven football divisions — up from six divisions in previous years. The state’s largest 72 schools are in Division I, with the rest in six other divisions of 105 to 109 schools.
DON’T ADD UP
After all that, The Repository still found some discrepancies between OHSAA and Department of Education enrollment numbers.
McKinley’s average daily membership of 597 boys in grades 9 to 11, according to the Department of Education, would have placed its football team in Division II for the next two years. However, the OHSAA lists the school at 612 boys, putting it four students over the line into Division I.
Turns out, the district’s Digital Academy, which allows students to take online courses, is what put the school into Division I.
Fred Dawson, director of data analysis and assessment for the school system, said the Digital Academy’s 30 boys in grades 9 through 11 were split in half — 15 assigned to McKinley and 15 to Timken, so they could have an option to play sports.
At Massillon’s Washington High School, average daily membership in the three lowest grades was 928, but the OHSAA lists enrollment as 996. Donna Fisher, the school district’s data management director, said it appears the OHSAA inexplicably added in full-time students from the Massillon Digital Academy.
Those students, however, are not eligible to play sports unless they take classes in tandem at the high school, said Principal Brad Warner.
“We weren’t worried too much about the final numbers they came out with,” Warner said. “We knew from discussions with other principals ... months before then that we’d drop (to Division II) in football.”
Jordan said there was statewide confusion among school officials about how to properly calculate open enrollment and vocational students. Do they count? How do you count them? The answer is both groups already are accounted for in the high school’s fall headcount number submitted to the education department, so they don’t have to be added back in again.
“There are so many variables, so many student situations,” explained Tammy Fanning, EMIS coordinator for North Canton City Schools. “One EMIS coordinator may look at the numbers in a different way than someone at another district.”
Perhaps that’s why more than 70 schools or districts in Ohio were identified in a recent state audit as having unintentional errors in attendance reporting.
Page 3 of 3 - KIDS COUNT
Typically, school enrollment peaks around the first week of October, said John Charlton, a spokesman for the ODE. It’s no secret why. By state law, a district’s state and federal funding is tied to the average number of students who attend or have an excused absence during the first week of that month.
“A lot of schools have parties ... they offer lots of incentives to get students in the class,” Charlton said. “And let’s say I have 10 kids that I want to expel ... I may wait until after that week to do it.”
The October headcount number may be misleading too.
Last year, The Columbus Dispatch reported city school employees had “scrubbed” attendance records for more than five years. The practice of deleting student absences enabled the district to meet state standards for attendance, improved test-passing rates and helped increase state funding, the report said.
In February, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost followed with a 129-page audit of the Department of Education’s attendance and accountability system. In it, auditors indicated the Canton City Schools’ system and seven others around the state had also engaged in significant attendance scrubbing.
Yost’s recommendations in the audit:
• State funding should be based on year-long attendance numbers, not October count week, so money could follow a student in real time. “Doing so would create an environment in which school districts that currently use attendance incentives for October Count Week — often with great success — would themselves have incentives to encourage attendance throughout a student’s entire year. Importantly, schools that break enrollment under such a system would suffer a loss of funding as a result.”
• “While ODE has relied heavily on an honor system for district reporting, the system should be reformed by introducing independent oversight. Both ODE and districts would benefit from expanded cross-checks and data monitoring throughout the school year. This would greatly enhance ODE’s ability to identify and correct mistakes or detect fraud in data reporting.”
• “The widespread nature of data irregularities and questionable attendance practices demonstrates, at the very least, a lack of oversight by ODE over attendance reporting. To the extent that existing statutes contribute to an environment that makes ODE’s role unclear, or cumbersome, those statutes should be amended to reflect the need for a robust, state-level accountability function within the Ohio tradition of local school control.”
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On Twitter: @tbotosREP