Is Your Local Public School Telling the Truth?

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Is Your Local Public School Telling the Truth?
Across the country, public schools are being caught red-handed in manipulating their test scores, graduation rates, and campus safety data. Learn about why schools are cheating and how they are distorting the truth.
While schools should instill moral fortitude into their students, some educational institutions are "cheating" their own systems. According to recent investigations, a number of public schools have been caught tampering with their schools' test score reports, graduation rates, and other performance-related statistics.

What Information Could be Falsified?
 
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, public school leaders are under incredible amounts of pressure to ensure that their scores stay high while their graduation rates continue to soar. Public schools are required to publish data on topics of campus violence, academic performance, and graduation rates. Adding to these focus areas, schools must publicly publish an annual "report card" of the school, allowing community members to ascertain how specific groups have performed throughout the year. The specific groups assessed in this report card are differentiated by:
  • Ethnicity
  • Disability
  • Income (plus other potential related socio-economic factors)
  • English language proficiency
In addition, all public schools must disclose their annual dropout rates, teacher qualification standards and records, as well as other locally-mandated data.
 
The Pressure to Tamper Public School Reports
 
While increased access to school records is undoubtedly beneficial to the community, the transparency mandated by NCLB is prompting some school leaders to falsify educational data.
As Reason Magazine reveals, "While federal and state legislators congratulate themselves for their newfound focus on school accountability, scant attention is being paid to the quality of the data they're using. Whether the topic is violence, test scores, or dropout rates, school officials have found myriad methods to paint a prettier picture of their performance."
 
In addition, the strong amount of emphasis placed on student performance may be encouraging some leaders to publish false claims about their school's achievements. After all, a portion of every public school's budget and national ranking is derived (in part) by student testing performance, graduation rates, and campus safety. Subsequently, some leaders have reported false data in order to boost their school's reputation and funding potential. For example, some leaders have chosen to selectively report school dangers and incidences of violence. Therefore, while recent statistics may show that overall violence in public schools has significantly declined, many experts question the validity of this data.
 
How Public Schools are Distorting Their Reports
 
Unethical public school leaders are utilizing a handful of tactics to manipulate their data, including:
  • Relabeling or intentionally altering a dropout's attendance and/or transfer records
  • Reporting a rise in honors and Advanced Placement enrollment without providing information on the number of students who failed or dropped these courses
  • Shifting graduation requirements to reduce dropout rates
  • Adjusting the school's grading scale in order to boost students' combined GPAs
For example, as the New York Times revealed in a 2003 report on public schools, one of Houston's largest public institutions, Sharpstown High School, reported zero dropouts for one annual school report card. When experts further investigated these claims, it was discovered that the Sharpstown school leaders adjusted the 9th grade enrollment records in order to shift dropouts to new jurisdiction areas. As a result, a student who dropped out of the Sharpstown High School may have been labeled as a "transfer" to a different public facility.
 
After this falsification was revealed, a state-wide investigation was conducted to assess the true dropout rates among 16 Houston area middle and high schools. Through extensive studies, state leaders found that more than half of the "transfer" students should have been legally defined as "dropouts."
 
While the NCLB act was intended to hold schools to greater accountability, not all campuses have upheld their standards of honesty. Accurate data reporting is critical to identifying struggling schools and creating effective plans for academic improvement. Although school leaders may be tempted to falsify information, misleading data can only service to punish the school's students.

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